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Volume 87 Band 
March 1982 Maart 





Cape Town Kaapstad 


are issued in parts at irregular intervals as material 
becomes available 

Obtainable from the South African Museum, P.O. Box 61, Cape Town 8000 


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beskikbaarheid van stof 

Verkrygbaar van die Suid-Afrikaanse Museum, Posbus 61, Kaapstad 8000 


1, 2(1-3, 5-8), 3(1-2, 4-5, 8, t.-p.i.), 5(1-3, 5, 7-9), 

6(1, t.-p.i.), 7(1-4), 8, 9(1-2, 7), 10(1-3), 

11(1-2, 5, 7, t.-p.i.), 15(4-5), 24(2), 27, 31(1-3), 32(5), 33, 45(1) 

lone Rudner 

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Printed in South Africa by In Suid-Afrika gedruk deur 

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South African Museum, Cape Town 

(With 28 figures and 45 tables) 
[MS accepted 17 September 1981] 


Ethno-archaeological information from historical and contemporary records and personal 
ethnographical and archaeological fieldwork is examined and correlated. The monograph is 
meant as a contribution to the study of rock art and a foundation for experimental research on 
rock paintings and their preservation, as well as a comprehensive source of reference. 

Recorded theories and experiments on substances used for rock paintings are noted and 
the use of these substances by the historical Hottentots, the present-day Nama, and the 
Bushmen is investigated; the conclusions are related to the rock paintings and the information 
obtained by examining them visually. 

Pigments and paints were used by Khoisan peoples in prehistoric and historic times; many 
of the practices have survived in some form or other; similarities between those of the Nama 
and Kora and between the Nama and some Hottentot-speaking Bushmen have been noted. 

Much of the recorded information is shown to have been based on plagiarism and 
speculation, with very slight primary information on the substances used by the rock painters. 
Indications are that the most likely binders for the rock paints would have been various fats, 
and perhaps water; mainly earth pigments would have been used, and possibly plant pigments, 
which might not have lasted. Evidence for the use of some of the binders suggested in the 
literature was not found, and it is questioned whether others were as widely used as has been 
claimed. Further information must come from chemical tests and other laboratory experiments. 



Introduction 3 

Aims and methods 3 

Who were the artists? 5 

Terminology 8 

Key to tables 9 

Pigments and paints world-wide 10 

General 10 

Pigments and paints of black peoples in southern Africa 11 

Rock paintings world-wide 15 

Theories and experiments regarding southern African rock paintings 25 

Introduction 25 

Discussion and summary 25 

Media 25 

Pigments 39 

Techniques and tools 46 

Conclusions 49 

The data 50 

Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 87, 1982: 1-281, 28 figs, 45 tables. 



Pigments and paints of the historical Hottentots 68 

Introduction 68 

The tribes and their economies 68 

Sources of information 70 

Discussion and summary 71 

Fat 72 

Dung 83 

Urine .- 85 

Blood 87 

Stomach liquid 90 

Water 90 

Milk 92 

Eggs 92 

Plant sap 93 

Gum 94 

Honey 94 

Pigments 95 

Buchu 108 

Patterns made with cosmetic pigments and paints 112 

Conclusions 114 

The data 116 

Pigments and paints of the present-day Nama 143 

Introduction 143 

The data 144 

Gibeon 144 

Tses 146 

Berseba 147 

Soromas 150 

Klein Karas 153 

Discussion and summary 154 

Fat 154 

Dung 155 

Urine 158 

Blood 158 

Stomach liquid 159 

Water 159 

Gum 161 

Other substances 161 

Pigments 161 

Buchu 169 

Patterns made with cosmetic pigments and paints 171 

Conclusions 173 

Pigments and paints of the Bushmen 175 

Introduction 175 

Group names 177 

Sources of information 177 

Discussion and summary 178 

Fat 178 

Dung 185 

Urine 185 

Blood 185 

Stomach liquid 188 

Water 188 

Milk 190 

Eggs 190 

Plant sap 191 

Gum 191 



Honey 193 

Perspiration 193 

Pigments 194 

Buchu 204 

Patterns made with cosmetic pigments and paints 204 

Conclusions 210 

The data 212 

Archaeological evidence for the use of pigments and paints 233 

General finds from archaeological sites 233 

Red burials and 'burial stones' T 236 

Caches of pigments 238 

Pigment mining 242 

Summary and conclusions 244 

Relating Khoisan pigments and paints to the rock paintings 246 

Pigments and colours 246 

Media and techniques of application 254 

Body paints in rock paintings 257 

Weathering 263 

Conclusions 264 

Acknowledgements 268 

References 269 

Appendix. List of tables 281 



The study of rock paintings cannot be complete without an investigation of 
the pigments and media used in the paints — 'der Ausgangspunkt der Kunst ist 
das Wissen um die Farbe, urn den Wert der Farbe . . .' (Kiihn 1952: 33). 

The purpose of this study is to record as much information as possible on 
the pigments and paints that were, or may have been, used in the rock paintings 
of southern Africa as a contribution to the study of rock art, and to provide a 
basis for future researches in connection with the rock paintings and their 
preservation. It is also meant to serve as a comprehensive source of reference to 
the pigments and paints and related practices of the Khoisan peoples. 

The serious problem of the deterioration of rock paintings has often been 
noted in the literature; there have been pleas for action and there have been 
minor, usually individual, attempts at preservation and conservation, sometimes 
with unfortunate results. One form of conservation, the recording of rock art, 
has been undertaken mainly by spare-time workers at great personal cost in time 
and money (see Rudner & Rudner 1970: 245-263). 

In 1974 the National Monuments Council of South Africa obtained addi- 
tional funds from the State to investigate the preservation of rock paintings, and 
asked the National Building Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and 
Industrial Research in Pretoria to undertake the work — its experience, know- 
ledge and facilities in regard to the preservation of stone in buildings made it 
eminently suitable for the task. A Steering Committee composed of various 
experts, some on rock paintings, was appointed and a programme was drawn up. 
It was realized that this would be a long-term project that would have to start 


from scratch, as investigations into previous projects of this nature revealed that 
they had been short-lived and the work unrecorded and were, therefore, of little 
or no value. Initially, thorough in situ surveys in all the main rock painting 
regions were undertaken and fully documented; tests are being conducted in the 
field and in the laboratory (see Loubser & Van Aardt 1979; Webb 1980). But 
very little is known of the paints that were used by the rock artists. This study of 
the pigments may assist future laboratory investigations in further determining 
the composition of the paints and methods of preservation. Such experiments 
require experts and sophisticated equipment — the author has not undertaken 
any tests beyond the few deemed necessary for purposes of discussion. 

A. J. H. Goodwin taught that archaeologists in southern Africa could not 
afford to neglect a thorough study of ethnology, to adopt where necessary 
ethnological approaches to a study of our later prehistory, especially. This 
concept has again been recognized in the past decade or so. The main part of 
this monograph is devoted to the pigments and paints, as well as allied 
substances, that were or are still used by the Khoisan peoples, descendants of 
the rock artists (see below), and includes fieldwork undertaken by the author 
among the Nama people of South West Africa. Particular attention is paid to 
ingredients for paints suggested by previous workers; these are dealt with 
initially in the third section on the theories and experiments regarding southern 
African rock paintings. 

Archaeological evidence, including the evidence from the rock paintings 
themselves, is used to augment the information. 

For comparative purposes, the first section of the monograph deals briefly 
with the use of pigments and paints worldwide, including those of the black 
people in southern Africa, some of whose practices might have influenced the 
Khoisan peoples, and in rock art in countries outside southern Africa. 

The final section correlates the information regarding the Khoisan pigments 
and paints and the rock paintings. Information from the author's research and 
fieldwork on rock art throughout southern Africa is incorporated. 

The Data for the various sections (in smaller type) are meant to serve as 
sources of reference and additional information, if required, and need not 
necessarily be read as part of the whole. As this information is collated in the 
various summaries and discussions, there will obviously be overlapping and 
repetition. To be of some meaning from the ethnological point of view, the data 
include references to how the substances were used, and why; but as this is not 
an ethnological study per se, this information is noted only briefly. Misunder- 
standings and misconstruing of information occur all too often in the literature, 
therefore original statements have frequently been quoted verbatim in the data 
and, because of faulty translations, the original works have also been consulted 
where possible. 

But it is necessary first to explain why it is that the pigments and paints of 
the Khoisan peoples form the basis of this study: the following pages deal briefly 
with the identities of the rock artists. 



In a later section dealing with past theories and experiments in connection 
with the possible ingredients for rock paints, some of the information from the 
literature also contains references to the identity of the rock artists. This is listed 
in Table 1. 

Table 1 


Who were the artists? 



Somerville 1799-1802 


Painting unknown in NW Cape 


Baines 1842-53 

Bushmen, Baviaans R. 


Hahn 1879 

Bushmen, S.W.A. 

Bushmen painted 


Hahn 1881 

Hottentots, S.W.A. 

Hottentot women painted 


Kannemeyer 1890 

'Bushman' paintings 


Bent 1892 

'Bushman' drawings 



Stow before 1882 


Painters with horn pots 


Von Luschaw 1908 



Dornan 1909 


•Most made 50-70 years ago' 


Balfour 1909 


'Particular individuals' 


Bleek, E. & D. 1909 



Moszeik 1910 


A Boer saw painters 


Peringuey/AWH 1913 

Bushmen, Glen Grey 

'Old Thembus assert' 


Melle 1916 

Shona, Rhodesia 

'People say' 


Dornan 1917 

Bushmen (Masarwa), Bechuanal. 


Dornan 1925 

Bushmen, Bechuanal. 


Dornan 1925 

'Half-bred' Bushman 

Saw 'half-bred Bushman' paint 


Schapera 1925 



Lebzelter 1930 


Told by a farmer 


Dunn 1931 



Mason 1933 

Bushmen, Drakensberg 

Black informants 


Wells 1933 

Bushmen, Drakensberg 

Black informants 


Battiss 1948 



Ellenberger 1953 

Bushmen, Basutol. 


Willcox 1956 



Kennan 1959 

Bushmen, Basutol. 


How 1962 

Bushmen, Basutol. 

'Basotho say so' 


Willcox 1978 

Bushmen, Drakensberg 

Eyewitness, 19th century 


Out of these and dozens of other such references found but not listed here, 
only a very few were based on primary information, a few seemed to be reliable 
secondary information, and the vast majority consisted of plagiarism, hearsay 
evidence, or guesswork. 

Hahn (1879) knew of Bushmen artists at work in southern South West 
Africa; Stow (1905: 230) wrote in the last century of a Bushman in the Maluti 
Mountains who was killed while wearing a belt to which were attached small 
paint-pots of horn; Dornan (1917, 1925) had heard of Bushman painters in what 
is now Botswana, and watched a 'half-bred Bushman 1 painting on a rock for a 
reward of 5 shillings, which rather detracts from the authenticity of the event; 
Moszeik's (1910: 29) information from a farmer who said he had seen Bushman 
painters was repeated by Ellenberger (1953: 160) without acknowledgement; 
How (1962: 35-36, 38) had a Basotho man, who had painted with his Bushman 
half-brothers, paint experimental pictures on stone. 

The only Bushman ever to have been seen to make a painting by a trained 
observer was a young Drakensberg man captured by a commando and appren- 
ticed to a farmer (Willcox 1978: 84). 


Nearly all the early writers attributed the rock paintings to Bushmen, 
indeed, they were, and are, frequently referred to as 'Bushman paintings', also 
by black people such as the Basotho (Laydevant 1933), and it was in the 
mountains in and around Lesotho and Natal that the last Bushman artists 
painted their pictures on the rocks (e.g. Stow 1905: 25-26; Ellenberger 1953: 
148; How 1962: 15, 26). 

There is no doubt that most, if not all, the existing paintings in the 
Drakensberg areas, at least, were the work of Bushman artists, but their 
tradition of painting has been lost (e.g. Bleek 19286), and even the memory of it 
no longer survives. 

Various researchers have given drawing materials to Bushmen and tried to 
find some significant similarity to the rock paintings in the results. Moszeik (1910: 
8) cited several instances: C. T. Neuhaus showed coloured sketches made by a 
Bushman to the Berliner Gesellschaft fur Anthropologic, Ethnographie and 
Urgeschichte — although they differed in many respects from the rock paintings, 
he still thought them 'characteristic'; and Moszeik (1910: 12) described pencil 
sketches made by Bushmen at Rietfontein ('Dist. Mier') that were thought to be 
reminiscent of crude rock paintings. According to Thomas (1959: 13), paintings 
made by Bushmen with paints and paper 'could be said to resemble the paintings 
and engravings on the rocks' — but which paintings and engravings out of the many 
styles? Reuning & Worthy (1973), in the course of psychological studies, thought 
that drawings made with poster paints -by Bushmen, including figures and designs, 
resembled those found in rock paintings and petroglyphs, but that they were 
generally not nearly as 'sophisticated' as those of the rock art. I. Rudner (1970) 
found that drawings made in sketchbooks by several Bushmen (adults and 
children) for Bleek and Lloyd in the last century were disappointingly unlike 
those on the rocks, and any resemblance could be ascribed to the fact that some 
were as crude as some of the crude rock paintings. In fact, the author believes that 
to be the case in all such experiments which can, at best, indicate individual talent 
only. Not all the Bushmen were artists — there are several references in the 
literature to specific artists in a community (e.g. Stow 1905: 200, 230; Dornan 
1909; Ellenberger 1953: 148) — and one may as well give painting materials to 
people picked at random in a supermarket and compare their pictures with those 
in the National Gallery. And to ask a !kung Bushman from the Kalahari, who had 
never painted or seen rock paintings, his opinion of rock paintings in the 
Brandberg (Biesele 1974) is equally futile (see J. Rudner 1975). 

But there were others who attributed some of the paintings to the historical 
Hottentots: Angas (1849: 3) wrote of 'Hottentot and Bushman drawings in all 
the caves of South Africa' — one does not know on what grounds he did so; 
Hahn (1881: 140) noted that Hottentot women in South West Africa painted 
ritual marks on stones, but was he referring to the same group of painters whom 
he had called 'Bushmen' in his 1879 publication? 

H. Vedder told J. Rudner in 1956 (pers. comm.) that the sons of 'Captain 
Witbooi', the Nama headman, were excellent painters who painted 'photo- 


graphically accurate' pictures of ostriches, houses, people, trains, etc., on the 
walls of a school — but there is no known tradition of rock painting among the 
Hottentots. However, the virtual absence of historical records of their painting 
on rocks does not mean that they or their ancestors had not done so in 
prehistoric times. Rudner & Rudner (1959a; 1970: 230-232; 1978: 60; J. Rudner 
1957) suggested that Hottentots might have been responsible for some of the 
paintings, particularly some of those in the south-western Cape and South West 
Africa that are stylistically different from most of ^ the paintings in the 
Drakensberg areas and depict different people — often dressed like the historical 
Hottentots — from the agile little hunters depicted in the paintings of the latter 

It is likely that the Bergdama — black Nama-speaking hunter-gatherers in 
historical times who had lost their language and culture and adopted those of the 
Nama people — might have made some of the later and stylistically different rock 
paintings in the mountainous areas of South West Africa, such as the Brand- 
berg, which they once inhabited (J. Rudner 1957; Rudner & Rudner 1970: 232; 
1978: 60). 

Black people might have painted some, relatively few, pictures on the 
rocks: in Rhodesia some paintings were said to have been made by the Shona 
people (Melle 1916) as well as others (see Summers ed. 1959), and some of the 
crude pictures in the northern Transvaal that appear to be late could have been 
made by black people (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 103), for they, too, use 
pigments and paints (see next section herein). 

Some extravagant theories that show an ignorance of, and disregard for, 
local ethnography have, unfortunately, been postulated regarding the painters 
and rock paintings. Regarding the paintings in South West Africa and Rhodesia 
(now Zimbabwe), including the so-called 'hook-heads' (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 
179 et seq.), Boyle (1951) noted that 'the red-headed population is allied to a 
group with Mediterranean and Semitic elements'; she saw a painting of 'a 
Phoenician lady' in Rhodesia; the 'White Lady' painting in the Brandberg was a 
reminder that 'in the palace of Knossos in Crete . . . such a costume of sweater, 
shorts and hood was worn by the young girl bull-fighters . . .'; Boyle 'plunged 
into research' as she put it, and surfaced with Isis-Diana of Crete and an 
involved story from Latin classics to fit the paintings in the remote Namib Desert 
to her satisfaction — but did not commit herself to identifying the artists. Not to 
be outdone, Breuil (1955: 10 ff., 31) referred to 'connections' between the 
paintings in the 'White Lady' shelter and those of Egypt and Crete, and the girl 
bull-fighters of Knossos, with special reference to, inter alia, Sebek, the Croco- 
dile-man in the service of Set, the Egyptian God of Evil; Diana and the Golden 
Ass of Apuleius; Isis in her Cretan form of Diana; her husband Osiris; 
Phoenician art; Knossos, and much more — all connected, according to him, with 
the pictures in this one desert shelter. 

There have been others too; their far-fetched and untenable theories are 
unfortunately quoted and find favour with laymen. 


But the evidence is all there to prove that, already over 25 000 years ago 
(Wendt 1976; see section on archaeological evidence herein), the rock artists 
were the indigenous peoples of southern Africa who painted pictures of them- 
selves and other people living around them, their possessions, incidents, cere- 
monies, mythological creatures, animals, and designs that might have had some 
meaning. The Khoisan peoples were the main rock painters, and it is, therefore, 
their pigments and other ingredients for paints that are being investigated here. 


'Hottentot' and 'Bushman 1 

In historical times the terms 'Hottentot' and 'Bushman' were often loosely 
and inaccurately used. They cover a spectrum of people, a circle rather than a 
range, on opposite sides of which are nomadic pastoralists, Hottentots, and 
hunter-gatherers, Bushmen, with marked differences both in the substance and 
the spirit of their lives, with different economies and different, distinctive 
languages, social structures, customs, traditions, and beliefs. But the spectrum 
then also includes an overlapping or blending of these aspects round and across 
the circle, which will continue to confound scholars. A culture is more than just 
an economy and/or a language, and there is too often a disregard of other, less 
obvious cultural aspects that have, admittedly, often gone unrecorded or been 
poorly recorded in historical times.- But to identify these various groups is a 
study in itself. The introductions to the sections on the historical Hottentots and 
the Bushmen will augment these notes (pp. 68, 175). 

There is a tendency today to use alternative terms, 'Khoi' and 'San', 
because the old terms have been used in derogatory fashion or sound deroga- 
tory. That being so, some other national names in common and unquestioned 
use will not bear close scrutiny. It can be pointed out that the political 
delegation of one population group in South West Africa call themselves 
'Boesmans' (Bushmen), not 'San', while another group call themselves 'Baster'. 
'Hottentots' as such no longer exist and in South West Africa the people refer to 
themselves by their old tribal names or use the general term 'Nama', which once 
denoted a group of certain tribes only and cannot be used as a general name for 
all the historical tribes. The Nama people do not refer to themselves as 'Khoi'. 
'Bushman' today refers to the remaining hunter-gatherers, regardless of differ- 
ences in languages and the spectrum of other cultural differences, whose way of 
life is rapidly changing. 

'Saan' or 'San', a Hottentot term, has been in use for a specific group of 
hunter-gatherers, i.e. the Hottentot-speaking 'Bushmen' of the Namib Desert, 
Kaokoveld, and lower Orange River areas (see Schultze 1907; Vedder 1938: 
124-128; Sangiro 1951: 104; Westphal 1963) who 'stood in close relationship to 
the Nama in religion, law, and custom, . . . one of the oldest of the Nama tribes' 
(Vedder 1938: 78 ff., 124-128, see also pp. 95, 106, 119). This term, too, for that 
matter, had a 'low meaning' (Hahn 1881: 3). 


In the author's opinion the use of the terms 'Khoi' and 'San', so prevalent 
today, belong in a biological context, but the use of the historical names, 
'Bushman' and 'Hottentot', is more logical in historical context, particularly 
when quoting early literature when their replacement could amount to tamper- 
ing with the evidence. It is difficult, even impossible, to know whether the 
previous authors always used the terms correctly, and their use in this study, 
therefore, follows the original references, spellings and all, particularly in the 
data sections and tables. 

The general term 'Khoisan', which covers the entire spectrum and is 
entrenched in the literature, is useful, particularly when used in biological and, 
especially, archaeological context when closer identification is virtually impossi- 
ble. It was apparently first suggested by Schultze-Jena (1928), but already in the 
last century Hahn (1881: 96) had suggested a similar general term, 'Satsi- 

Terms for pigments 

The terms for the pigments, especially the various forms of haematite, have 
been too loosely used in the literature always to identify the minerals accurately, 
therefore the original terms have been retained, also in the discussions where 
reference is made to information in the literature. 


In the tables relating to the substances connected with paints that were used 
by the Khoisan peoples, the following abbreviations occur: 

under 'medical' 

i = used internally 
e = used externally 
x = unsure, either or both of the above 

under 'with pigments', etc. 

m = mixed with, i.e. mixed with another substance before being ap- 
plied, if so stated 

u = used with, i.e. not mixed with another substance but used at the 
same time, e.g. powdered pigment applied to a fat-besmeared 

x = unsure, either or both of the above 

under 'users' 

m = men c = children 

w = women u = unspecified sex 

under 'body parts' 

f = face 1 = leg 

h = hair a = arm 

b = body u = unspecified body parts 




Although this study is confined to the pigments and paints used by the 
Khoisan peoples and those used in the rock paintings in southern Africa, other 
people of different cultures all over the world and throughout the ages have used 
colouring materials — this is discussed shortly for comparative purposes. 

Traces of ochre excavated at Oldevai Gorge in northern Tanzania showed 
that early hominids used the pigment a million and more years ago (Tobias 
1980). Palaeolithic men and women painted themselves, their dead, their 
material objects, and the rock walls of the shelters and caves that they inhabited. 
The cave of Terra Amata at Nice was occupied an estimated 300 000 years ago 
by Acheulean people who collected and used red ochre, and elsewhere in 
Europe various excavated sites yielded the pigment (Tobias 1980). In southern 
Africa there is abundant archaeological evidence for prehistoric pigment mining 
or digging and the use of pigments (see section on archaeological evidence), 
while the use of pigments for rock paintings was universal (see below in this 

Almost everywhere the main colour was red, and the main pigment haema- 
tite, a ferric oxide, the so-called 'bloodstone' used symbolically for blood (see 
Dart 1968), particularly in burials. Haematite burials occur throughout the world 
and clearly had a religious significance (James 1957). One of the oldest known is 
that of a Neanderthal man in France, c. 35 000 to 40 000 years old; other ancient 
European red burials have been found in Wales, Bavaria, and northern Russia; 
there are prehistoric red burials in Anatolia and North America; and red burials 
have been found in Japanese, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman tombs (Boshier & 
Beaumont 1972, see also Kiihn 1952: 33; Tobias 1980). 

The ancient civilizations in the East made extensive use of paints, particu- 
larly for decorative pottery and murals, and passed on their recipes to their 
descendants. The Egyptians painted their murals with a variety of paints for 
which they used earth pigments, often ferric oxides; they used tempera paints — 
possible binders were gelatine, glue, gum, albumen (white of egg), and certainly 
beeswax (Lucas 1948: 391 ff.). Beeswax as a medium was well known to the 
Romans (Lucas 1948: 402). 

Earth pigments are used also for modern paints. Binders depend on the 
type of paint required: permanently water soluble opaque colours are bound 
with gum (plant resin), dextrin, cellulose glue, or animal glues (bone and hide), 
or mixtures of these. Emulsion and dispersion paints are bound with egg 
tempera (whole egg, linseed oil, and water), casein tempera (casein = casein 
glue = cream cheese and slaked lime or casein and linseed oil), or gum tempera 
(e.g. gum arabic and oil). Temperas bind waterproof. Animal glues and dextrin 
binders (starchy gum) remain water soluble (Schoner n.d.). Although the 
modern paint industry has devised paints with a variety of new media, it still 
largely makes use of mineral pigments. 


As a matter of interest it may be noted here that a Spanish matador artist 
paints with blood (Foto-Rapport 1976: 16-21). The method was not described in 
the report, nor was it stated how long he expected the colour to last. The use of 
blood is not unique, e.g. in 1670 Boiling (in Raven-Hart 1971) wrote that hippo 
blood was used by painters in the East Indies as colouring ('farve'), and blood 
has been used in paints in other parts of the world (see below in this section). 
Further notes on blood appear in the section on theories and experiments 
regarding rock paintings in southern Africa (pp. 30-34). 

Still today men and women in so-called primitive societies use mainly earth 
pigments for cosmetic, often ritual, purposes, as well as for decorating objects 
and for rock paints. As southern Africa is the study area here, the practices of 
the black peoples in that region are reviewed briefly below, followed by a 
summary of research on rock paints elsewhere in the world. 


The various black peoples of the subcontinent make use of traditional 
pigments and paints, although these practices are disappearing with westerniza- 
tion. The following is an indication for comparative purposes of the materials 
used by the main ethnic groups. Those used by the Khoisan peoples are fully 
dealt with in subsequent sections. It is not known to what extent these various 
groups influenced one another in the use of paints, but at least the use of 
specularite by the Kora has been attributed to Tswana influence (see section on 
historical Hottentots), and there might have been other instances. There are also 
indications that black people might have painted on rocks (see herein). 

Among the Transkei Nguni the powdered pigment is usually mixed with 
water to a paste or to a thinner dye, depending on its use; sometimes fat, 
marrow or butter is used, or fats may be applied afterwards once the paint has 
dried. The pigment may also be applied in powdered form. Red ochre is the 
main pigment, but yellow is also used, as well as white clay and charcoal. The 
paints are used by both sexes, but mainly by women, cosmetically, ritually, for 
colouring objects (mainly garments), and for painting interiors and exteriors of 
huts. Various early travellers recorded these practices (e.g. Alberti 1807: 20-21, 
37, 40, 41; Steedman 1835 1: 18, 71, 259; Baines 1842-53: 39; Fritsch 1872: 17; 
Angas 1849: 49), and some are still in vogue today, sometimes with the addition 
of modern substances such as petroleum jelly, washing blue, or other store- 
bought paints (e.g. De Lange 1963; Elliott 1970; Broster 1976; West & Morris 
1976), and even among children (Mertens & Broster 1973) (and Fig. 2 herein). 
Plant pigments from roots and fungi were also used cosmetically (De Lange 
1963: 89). 

Among the Zulu people, red ochre mixed with water or fat is used 
cosmetically; the fat mixture is liberally applied to women's hair, especially in 
building up the elaborate traditional head-dresses; it is used ritually and medici- 
nally; pig's fat is often the binder, sometimes petroleum jelly; fat may be used 
on its own; white clay is also a pigment (e.g. Angas 1849: 75; Tyrrell 1971; West 



'mMm ' 

Fig. 2. Pondo child with painted face, Port St Johns, 

Transkei coast (from colour photograph by 

Sigurd Rudner). 

& Morris 1976). The women use powdered tamboti wood (Spirostachys africa- 
na), an oily red or dark-brown wood, as a perfume (Palmer & Pitman 1972). 

Prehistoric haematite mines are known in Swaziland (Boshier & Beaumont 
1972), and the people there still use the pigment. Battiss (1948) recorded that 
red paint was made by boiling haematite powder in an oily solution made from 
wild castor oil seeds. Swazi diviners dress their hair with soap and red ochre and 
shine it with butter or petroleum jelly (West & Morris 1976). 

In Lesotho red ochre is often mixed with fat, sometimes with water, and is 
used cosmetically, ritually, to colour objects, and to paint hut walls; yellow 
ochre and white pigments are also used (e.g. Arbousset & Daumas 1846: 249, 
290; Christol 1911: 38; Frobenius 1933: 616; Ellenberger 1953: 183; How 1962: 
35-36). Specularite, a metallic form of haematite, is heated and ground for a 
powerful medicine believed to have magical powers (How 1962: 34). Girl 
initiates are plastered with white clay (West & Morris 1976). Certain Lesotho 
groups smear the heads of initiates with 'ochre' and fat, others use fat and 
sehama, a term used for all black minerals such as graphite, stibnite, and 


pyrolusite (Walton 1954). Some groups decorate their bodies for ritual pur- 
poses — they paint stripes and patterns strongly reminiscent of the patterns on 
some of the figures in the rock paintings of the Drakensberg and adjacent areas 
(J. Walton, Cape Town, 1980 pers. comrn.). 

Among the Northern Sotho, the Pedi people use earth colours for painting 
huts and walls; boy initiates have their faces painted white (West & Morris 
1976); even little girls have their hair red-ochred (Tyrrell 1968). 

The colourful geometric patterns on the walls of Ndebele houses are painted 
with earth colours, but store-bought paints are also used. The colours wash off 
and the walls are repainted from time to time (Tyrrell 1968). Women diviners 
redden their hair; brides use powdered slate in their hair (West & Morris 1976). 

Venda girl initiates are rubbed with red ochre and the traditional pottery is 
painted with natural pigments (West & Morris 1976). 

Tsonga girls paint their faces with white clay, red ochre, and washing blue; 
the faces of girl initiates are painted white (West & Morris 1976). 

The Valley Tonga women use fat on their bodies, sometimes with ochre, 
especially for ceremonial occasions; hair is treated with ochre and fat (Tyrrell 

The Shona used oil and charcoal in their hair (Baines 1842-53: 27; Ander- 
son 1888: 351). 

Mauch (1871-2: 210 et seq.) recorded the copious use of fats on their bodies 
by the 'Makalaka', including ground-nut oil and cream, but did not mention 

The Ntwana women of eastern Transvaal (of Tswana origin) have a hair- 
style of clay, wood ash, and butter sprinkled with mica dust; when a woman 
wears red ochre, it denotes that she is 'taking a journey' (Tyrrell 1968: 73, 76). 

The various Tswana peoples were particularly fond of haematite, especially 
the metallic form, specularite, which they mined themselves (Burchell 1822-4 2: 
182) and mixed with grease for a cosmetic paint (e.g. Harris 1852: 43; Fritsch 
1872: 151; Bain 1949: 13). White clay, red ochre, black, and grey pigments were 
also used (e.g. Fritsch 1872: 207; Leyland 1866: 55; Chapman 1849-63 1: 92; 
Stow 1905: 522, 523). The elandsboontjie root (Elephantorrhiza elephantina) 
pounded and mixed to a paste with water, is used for tanning and colouring 
hides red (F. M. Barbour, McGregor Museum, Kimberley, 1972 pers. comm.). 

The Herero (also known as Damara in the literature, from the Hottentot 
Gomacha Dama or Cattle Dama), are possibly the most prolific users of red 
ochre for cosmetic purposes in southern Africa. Both men and women who still 
use traditional dress mix red ochre with grease, usually butter (which is made 
but not for eating), to rub into their hair, over their entire bodies, and on their 
skin clothing; it is used by the Himba (traditionally cattle-owners) (Fig. 3) and 
the 'poorer' Tjimba of the Kaokoveld who were previously without cattle (e.g. 
Tindall 1839-55: 59; McKiernan 1874-79: 40; Chapman 1849-63 1: 167; Fritsch 
1872: 216; Gallon 1889: 60, 115-117; Van Warmelo 1951: 36; Moller 1899: 217: 
Bannister & Johnson 1978; personal observation 1974). 



Fig. 3. Himba women coloured from top to toe with red ochre, eastern Kaokoveld 1974. 

In the Waterberg of northern South West Africa there was an open-pit mine 
for 'Raseneisenerz' which the Herero women ground on hollowed stones and 
mixed with sheep fat or butter for a cosmetic; this was the same iron ore that the 
Kwanyama of Ovamboland used for smelting iron (J. Gaerdes, Okahandja 
district, 1971 pers. comm.). The women also use the finely ground rind of 
Okatjikwe {Nicolasia felicioides) (Otto 1979). 

Along the Okavango River, the Mbukushu women plaster the front of their 
hair with clay and fat, and their hair is elongated with string or fibres and fat 
(Mertens 1974). The 'Vambunza' (Mbunza) rub butter on a corpse (Forg 1968), 
but in this instance pigments were not mentioned. 

The Ovambo use butter and animal fats, sometimes mixed with pigments, for 
cosmetic and ritual purposes; the earth pigments are red ochre, 'yellow clay', and 
white earth (e.g. Jordon 1883: 526; Anderson 1888: 250; Galton 1889: 123, 130; 


Lebzelter 1934: 219, 235; Vedder 1938: 71). In marriage rites, 'white earth' is used, 
and young Ndonga girls used a mixture of fat, 'black ochre' and a resin-like juice in 
their hair (Moller 1899: 165, 175). The oily red wood of Spirostachys africana 
(tamboti) is ground and mixed with fat or butter for a cosmetic for women (Palmer 
& Pitman 1972). In 1974 the author bought a bundle of this wood, gathered for 
cosmetic purposes, from an Ovambo woman at Oniipa. Store-bought pigments are 
now also used (J. Gaerdes 1971 pers. comm.). 

The Bergdama (officially and confusingly called Damara, a historical name 
for the Herero) used salves of fat, ochre and buchu, or only fat (Lebzelter 1934: 
117, 139; Vedder 1928<z: 58). Their witch-doctors sometimes smeared their faces 
with blood (Vedder 1928: 64). 

In Angola the Ngangela women paint their bodies black, white and red; 
pigments are mixed with castor oil and used for ritual and magical purposes, not 
for ordinary decoration; the Nyemba women paint their hair, necks and shoul- 
ders with powdered red wood mixed with water and oil, in contrast to the people 
in the eastern areas where 'burnt earth' is used (Schachtzabel 1923: 96, 108, 
179). Powdered red wood, called lucula, is mixed with butter and used as a 
cosmetic in southern Angola; bodies are painted white and huts are painted with 
patterns for protection against evil spirits (Bolinder 1952: 48, 64, 85). Chokwe 
women use red clay in their hair (Bolinder 1952: 86). 

Uses for blood were not often recorded and, apart from its use by 
Bergdama witch-doctors, no mention was found of its use as an ingredient for 
paint, although it might have been used in this way. Just a few references are 
mentioned here: the Herero saved it for consumption (Alexander 1838 2: 167); 
Mauch (1871-2: 196) saw it kept for eating in Matabeleland; the 'knobnose' 
people living between the Drakensberg, Transvaal, and Delagoa Bay made hut 
floors of clay, washed over with cowdung and finished with blood — the surface 
was polished with a stone (Dunn 1931, fig. 1, legend). 

To summarize: the various black peoples of southern Africa use earth 
pigments — mainly iron oxides — for cosmetic, ritual and medicinal purposes, and 
to colour walls and objects such as pottery; charcoal may be used for a pigment, 
and plant pigments are also used, usually to a lesser extent; some red woods are 
ground for cosmetic pigments as well as perfumes. The traditional media are 
mainly various kinds of fat — animal fat, marrow, butter, vegetable oils and, less 
often, cream, while petroleum jelly is a modern addition; sometimes water is a 
medium; one reference was found where oil and water were used together with a 
plant pigment — this would have had the effect of an emulsion; plant sap seems 
to have been used very rarely; one instance was found where blood was used 
ritually on faces, but there might have been other instances not traced. 


For comparative purposes, the pigments and paints that were used, or 
thought to have been used, in rock art elsewhere than in southern Africa are 
briefly recorded here, as well as problems experienced in that field of study. This 


does not in any way imply a connection between the rock paintings of people 
elsewhere in the world and those in southern Africa, although this is quite 
possibly the case in territories immediately north of the subcontinent, but that is 
not relevant here. What is known about paints in the southern African rock art 
is discussed in the next section. 


According to Kuhn (1952: 30-32), in Palaeolithic rock paintings all shades 
of colours were used with the exception of green and blue; black was manganese 
ore, iron oxide and carbon; white was marl; ochres were used for brown, reds 
and yellows; violet, which occurs 'often', is not easy to identify; grinding-stones, 
on which the pigments were powdered, have been found; as the paint feels fatty, 
it seems to have been mixed with fat; the chemical analyses undertaken (up to 
1952) did not yield any satisfactory results as the vegetable ingredients that had 
possibly been used would have leached out; possibly white of egg, blood, honey, 
tallow, bone marrow, fish oil, and resin were used as binders; apart from blood, 
all the other ingredients are no longer chemically detectable. Kuhn quoted 
Obermaier (1938) as suggesting fat, blood serum, and white of egg as binders in 
the paints used for eastern Spanish rock paintings, and said that Herberts 
(1940), who undertook work on the composition of paints and conducted many 
experiments, found that moist rock rejects fat; his best experiments were with 
blood — the mixture attached to both dry and moist rock, especially when water 
was added, but he found that blood darkened fast and, with it, the paint; 
Herbert concluded that not fat but water had been the medium. Kuhn concluded 
that the lime sinter leaching out of the rock and creating an enamel-like layer 
protected the paintings; he mentioned that crayons were certainly used in some 
caves, and at Altamira such crayons had been found on a rock ledge. 

Ucko & Rosenfeld (1967: 57 ff.) wrote that the paints of Palaeolithic man 
were all derived from natural earth pigments, including all shades of ochres, but 
reds and browns were the most common. 'Red ochre occurs naturally but could 
also have been obtained from pure yellow and brown varieties through burning. 
Black and a violet black were obtained from manganese oxides. Black pigments 
from charcoal or from the soot of fatty substances such as animal fat, bone, etc., 
may have been used, but since they consist essentially of carbon they are under 
certain circumstances less likely to be well preserved than the manganese black. 
Blue and green are unknown in palaeolithic art, although organic dyes may well 
have been used.' Outlines and infilling are discussed. 'It is not always known 
whether the pigments were applied directly on the walls in the form of crayons 
... or by rubbing on as powdered pigments or as a paste. The evidence suggests 
that there were several ways of preparing paints and different techniques were 
probably employed . . . ; one form of paint was undoubtedly applied liquid and 
probably applied with a brush or tampon.' Stencilling might have been done by 
blowing powder, paste or liquid, and hollow tubes of long bone might have been 
used. Handprints were made with hands coated in paint. 


Almagro (in Pericot Garcia & Perello 1964) recorded that chemical analyses 
of paints from Spanish Levantine paintings had not yielded significant informa- 
tion. Pericot (in Pericot Garcia & Perello 1964) concluded that Levantine artists 
used dry oily paint with various kinds of grease content, while the northern 
Cantabrian paintings are more like pencil drawings. Porcar (in Pericot Garcia & 
Perello 1964) found that the colours of Levantine paintings at Gasulla and 
Valtorta were more intense when moistened and ranged 'from light to dark-red, 
bluish to violet manganese, flat to intense black'. 

Garcia Guinea (1975) noted that during excavations at Altamira in 1924 and 
1925, Obermaier found 'red and yellow ochre pencils of different shapes, wood 
carbon and greyish-white loam representing the materials used for blending the 
colours. He also found red, yellow or grayish-white clay.' 

North America 

Grant (1967: 13-14) recorded the following regarding the rock paintings of 
the American Indian: most of the rock paintings found in North America are 
painted in various shades of red, ranging from bright vermilion to a dull 
brown-red. Sometimes they are in black and, rarely, in white. Occasionally blue, 
green and yellow were used. The enduring pigments were earth colours. Red 
was almost universally made from 'iron oxide hematite'. Some tribes heated the 
mineral in areas where a naturally brilliant earthy haematite was unavailable. 
Yellow came from limonite, white from chalky deposits such as diatomaceous 
earth or minerals such as gypsum and kaolin. Black was from manganese ore, 
charcoal, or roasted graphite. Greens and blues probably came from copper 
ores. Where haematite was unavailable, 'burnt clay' was used. In British 
Columbia yellow ochre was baked to get a red pigment: it was powdered, 
kneaded with water into balls the size of walnuts, flattened into discs, and baked 
on a hot fire. 'The earthy ores were ground fine in stone mortars and often 
moulded into cakes for storage for body painting, rock painting, or any other 
decorative use. For rock painting the pigment was reground and mixed with 
some sort of oil binder to give it permanence. The type of binder certainly 
varied from place to place, but animal oils, blood, white of egg, and vegetable 
oils were all readily available and any would serve the purpose. The Yokuts . . . 
in California often used sap from the common milkweed Asclepias mixed with 
oil from the crushed seeds of the Chillicothe Echinocystis .' 

'The application of the paint to the rock surface was usually done with 
brushes, some of which have been found in cave shelters. They were made from 
frayed ends of yucca, twigs or bound masses of fibre. . . . Pointed sticks may 
have been used . . . and for some of the cruder paintings it is obvious that finger 
painting did the job. Occasionally the drawing was made directly on the rock 
with a piece of hematite or a lump of charcoal.' 

'Small paint mortars, sea-shells and the like were used for palettes and small 
depressions were sometimes ground in the rock below the painting to hold 
colours, traces of which can still be seen.' 


In writing of the Indian rock paints of the Great Lakes, Dewdney (in 
Dewdney & Kidd 1967: 17) concluded that there can be no doubt that almost all 
the Shield pictographs were painted with red ochres, a majority by using a finger 
for a brush, but binders were more problematic. Red was the sacred colour for 
the aborigine in many areas of North America. Iron-stained earths and rusted 
iron ores usually occurred locally or could be obtained by trade. Colours range 
from rusty orange, misnamed vermilion by some, to purplish brick-red. 'We can 
scarcely suppose that the same binding agent was used by every Indian who 
painted a rock. But it may be that some binders were more permanent than 
others. Certainly most of the pigment now is difficult to scrape off with a knife. 
Why? I found a clue to the answer in a non-Indian painting on the Red Rock 
site. Applied while dripping with the binder — presumably the linseed oil com- 
monly used until this mid-century — the burnt sienna pigment, though still 
strong, rubbed off easily, leaving only a faint pink stain on the rock. The 
pigment was so suspended in oil that it was separated by a thin film from direct 
contact with the rock grains.' He deduced that the water-soluble fish glues or egg 
fluid available to the Indians would create more opportunity of contact with the 
rock grains than the equally available sturgeon oil or bear grease. 'By the same 
reasoning little or no binder (i.e. water alone — if no rain blew on the face while 
the paint was drying — would provide the ideal condition for such bonding.' 
Paintings on a cliff face on the shore of Lake Superior were exposed to waves 
and shore-ice, driving rain and snow, and were at least a century and a half old 
but had endured. 

Less used colours were black, yellow and white, according to Dewdney (in 
Dewdney & Kidd 1967: 6). 'The Shield aborigines knew how to use heat to convert 
the hydrous yellow ochre into the anhydrous red oxide.' An Indian described for 
him how he reddened earth by bringing it to a white heat in a frying-pan, then mixed 
it with oil rendered from whitefish gut. The reddish-brown paint was used to 
waterproof his log cabin and paddles, and it dried with a slight gloss. 'As early as the 
1740s James Isham in his "Observations" reported that "the Glue the Natives saves 
out of the Sturgeon is very strong and good, they use itt in mixing with their paint, 
which fixes the Colours so that they never Rub out" . ' Dewdney suggested the use of 
spittle. At sites the paint had smeared downwards 'as if a blowing rain had partially 
dissolved it before it had set; this suggested a light, water-solvent binder. 
Geologists tell me, too, that the red oxide is partly soluble in the carbonic acid 
formed by rain that has picked up carbon dioxide from the air, but that it also has an 
adhesive action in the formation of some types of rock' (pp. 21-22). Analysis 
identified one sample of paint as a ferric oxide, 'but the traces of organic material 
which would indicate the binder were so slight that carbon-dating was out of the 
question' (p. 30). At one site the paint ('a dull wine-gray') seemed to have been 'a 
dye, rather than a pigment, applied with a small stiff brush . . . some lines have a 
sharp, clear edge, even where the rock is rough'. One theory was demonstrated: a 
line was made with a piece of haematite, then a wet finger was used to broaden the 
line (p. 39). Some pigments were transparent (p. 73). At one site white pigment had 


been mixed with both yellow and black (p. 94). At several sites large areas of rock 
had been smeared with red ochre that would have required more red ochre than was 
available to an individual, and it might have been made by a group for ritual 
purposes (p. 126). 

Kidd (in Dewdney & Kidd 1967: 169) noted that the Indians used pigments 
for body paints and to paint their belongings as well as rock paintings. The white 
pigment in rock paintings might have been guano or a white earth. Although 
preliminary tests were made to determine the nature of Jhe binder, it remained 
unknown. Good binders were known to the Indians. Gull's eggs and bear's 
grease were suggested, and 'beaver tails and fish roe, the hoofs of moose and 
deer, could all be used to make glue, and fish and rabbit skins may have been 
uitilized also'. Apparently the binder leached out in time, leaving the pigment 
firmly attached to the rock. 

Short methods for the identification of pigments in North American rock 
paintings were based on determining the cation or metallic component of the 
pigment (Littmann 1975). 'Semi-micro methods have been devised for the 
identification of the metallic components comprising the pigments used in 
mesoamerican mural paintings. These methods are based upon samples of 
10-15 mg for each of the colors to be studied and include the reds, greens, blues, 
blacks and browns. The analyses are performed on individual samples for each 
color, thereby eliminating the need for long and tedious analytical procedures 
which are difficult to apply to the small amount of material often available.' 

In Canada a scientific study of rock paintings was started by a co-operative 
effort between the Canadian Conservation Institute and the Trent University 
Rock Art Project with the primary objectives to study the causes of natural 
deterioration, methods of preservation and dating, to determine the pigments, 
binding media, and rock types used by the rock artists, bonding between 
pigment and rock, and the apparent fading of paintings. Samples examined by 
means of scanning electron microscopy and X-ray microanalysis were found to 
consist of a four-layer structure: the base rock, a white underlayer (initially 
thought to have been a primer), a pigment layer (anhydrous iron oxide, Fe 2 3 ) 
intimately mixed with the underlayer, and a surface overlayer. The underlayer 
and overlayer consisted of identical aluminium silicate formed by groundwater 
seepage; both were impervious to water and acted as protective coatings to the 
paintings, but also obscured and gave some paintings a 'faded 1 appearance, 
while the pigments themselves did not fade. However, due to temperature 
variations, small particles of these layers broke off from the parent rock, 
destroying the paintings (Taylor et al. 197 r 4). (Further details regarding the study 
are not relevant here.) 

South America 

Gardner (1924) made a study of rock paintings in north-west Cordoba, 
Argentine: the colours were white, light bluish-grey, black, dark grey, possibly a 
faded black, and red, 'the remainder in combination of these and other colours'. 


White predominated, then black, then red. White and red were probably limestone 
and 'ochre', black might have been organic, such as charcoal or soot, except in a few 
cases where pyrolusite (Mn0 2 ) seemed to be indicated. White might also have been 
bird guano. Samples of white, red, and black paints were microscopically and 
chemically tested: two white samples were hydrated oxide of calcium only slightly 
altered to carbonate by atmospheric condition, i.e. slaked lime; the aborigines of 
that time (not later than the middle of the sixteenth century) were apparently 
acquainted with the process of lime-burning; a third white sample was sulphate of 
calcium with phosphate of calcium; 'the use of calcined bones might account for the 
phosphate of lime content but its presence also seems to confirm . . . excrement of 
the larger Raptor es\ Gypsum was uncommon in the region. Red was oxide of iron, 
common in the region in red form. The black sample was organic matter, perhaps 
soot. These colours might have been employed for painting designs on pottery and 
for markings on the face. At sites of ancient aboriginal settlements in north-west 
Cordoba, nodules and cakes of red, black and yellow were discovered and analysed 
and found to be 'ochre, perhaps burnt', dioxide of manganese (pyrolusite), and 
limonite, respectively. 


In Ceylon the Vedda women made crude rock paintings for amusement 
(Seligman n.d.). Further details were not given. 


The colours used in Aboriginal paintings in Arnhem Land are red, black, 
yellow, and white pigments ground to a thin paste on a flat stone. A fixative is the 
sap of a bruised orchid bulb, rubbed directly on the painting-surface. The brushes 
are strips of chewed bark, thin sticks, and a single feather, or strands of palm leaf 
(Mountford 1954, preface). All Aborigines are natural artists, according to 
Mountf ord (1964 : 9) ; he had yet to meet one who could not or did not want to paint . 
Older paintings are renovated. In Mountford's photograph at page 15 the 
renovator seems to be painting with his finger. 'The colours for bark painting are 
made from red, yellow, black and white pigments which are ground, with water, on 
a coarse-textured flat stone until they are of a cream-like consistency. Some of the 
pigments are obtained locally, others by trade. . . . For a fixative the artists utilize 
the sap from the broken bulb of one of the tree orchids. On most occasions this sap 
is rubbed on the inner surface of the bark sheet, although . . . it is often mixed with 
the pigments on the grinding-stone. Three kinds of brushes are used: a narrow strip 
of bark, chewed at one end for the broad lines; a thin cylindrical stick for the dots; 
and a flexible brush made from either a few fibres of palm leaf or a single, small 
feather for the fine parallel lines.' 

In the rock shelter at Owalinja, the Pitjandjara Aborigines renew the old 
paintings annually; the paintings in 'yellow cobalt ochre' that are on older red, 
black, and white paintings at Owalinja show later trade contacts with the 
neighbouring Jankundjara (Tindale 1972: 240). 


In male initiation, manganese dioxide, traded from the south-east, or 
charcoal and grease are rubbed over the forehead of the Pitjandjara initiate 
(Tindale 1972: 257). Bernt (1972: 204) noted that in the Australian Western 
Desert, where the Walmandjeri and Gugadja are, a blood rite is performed in 
male initiation when a man is given arm blood to drink, and some is also spurted 
over him. Initiated Aborigine youths renewed the rock paintings of their clan, 'a 
reproduction and fertility rite observed by Elkin in»Australia and corroborated 
by Frbbenius in Senegal, where the initiated youths are given the task ... of 
renewing the rock paintings of their clan, sometimes with blood, sometimes with 
red colouring matter' (Lajoux 1963). 

According to Clarke (1976), naturally occurring pigments used by Abor- 
igines in rock paintings in Western Australia are a red pigment (mainly haema- 
tite, Fe 2 3 ) from a red ochre mine worked until historic times by Aborigines, 
and a white pigment, huntite (Mg 3 Ca (Co 3 ) 4 ), still collected and used by them. 
Little is recorded of traditional Aboriginal methods of preparation. The ochre is 
still used for body painting, but there are no contemporary records of it being 
used in rock paintings. In samples of red paint from the closest painting site to 
the mine, no trace of an organic binder was found. In the Kimberley Region of 
Western Australia, recent paintings in colours were made on white backgrounds 
with 'white ochre' (sic); some of the Aboriginal artists are still living in the area. 
The white pigment occurred as irregular nodules up to 15 cm long in a clay-rich, 
weathered, basic volcanic rock; it is huntite, a rare alkaline mineral, used for 
body painting and decorating artefacts. (See also Clarke 1978.) When used for 
rock paintings it was sometimes mixed with other pigments, then applied as a 
paste with the fingers. No trace of an organic binder was found. It is not very 
durable, and the paintings are no longer being retouched as in the past. (Clarke 
has since acknowledged that the term 'white ochre' is incorrect (Patrick Baker, 
Fremantle, 1981 pers. comm.).) 

Chaloupka (1978) noted that in the Northern Territory 'the pigments used 
in rock paintings are naturally occurring ochres, hematite, manganese oxide and 
charcoal. As earth originating colours they do not "fade" but weather away and 
are affected by the same process of mechanical, chemical and biological weath- 
ering as the rock surfaces they have been painted on. . . . The red ochres, 
especially those of hematite base, have great staining properties, penetrating the 
sandstone surface at times to a depth of four millimetres, depending on the 
rock's composition. Limonite particles and those of white ochre [sic] (with the 
exception of huntite) are larger and less dense, necessitating thicker application 
and usually no penetration of the paint-rock interface occurs.' Binders were not 

North Africa 

Lhote (1959: 179-180) experimented with 'ochreous schists' found at the 
Tassili paintings 'and identical with those employed by the prehistoric Tassili 
artists'. The schists yielded the same colours and there was no difficulty in 


painting on sandstone, which absorbed the colour; 'all prehistoric paintings with 
a red-ochre base have so deeply penetrated into the substance of the stone that 
they are now indelible. The yellow ochres . . . are not so stable, although they 
do resist water quite well. The whites, however, are much more delicate and 
must be treated with care.' (He did not say what he used for binders.) Lhote 
(1959: 196-197) found that there were a 'multitude of tints to be observed in the 
Tassili paintings. . . . Generally speaking, a simplified palette consisted mostly 
of red ochre, a kaolin white and oxide of manganese.' The schists ranged in 
colour from a very dark ochre, almost chocolate, various reds and yellows, 
ending up with a markedly greenish tone. The media are not known but, based 
on analyses made of remains of paintings at Jebel Uwenat, included both casein 
(from milk) and acacia gum. 'Consistency of the ochres was not the same in all 
epochs' — some coatings were quite thick, others had been more fluid and had 
penetrated deeper into the surface of the rock. 

Lajoux (1963: 31-33) found that at Tassili 'a close examination of the 
paintings shows that a large proportion of the works of the archaeic period were 
thickly painted, or rather pasted, especially with the white colouring matter 
frequently used by this "school". This layer ... is scarcely perceptible in the 
naturalistic paintings. The painters of this period must have moistened their 
colours with a very fluid solvent, water or milk (casein is an excellent fixative, 
and experiments carried out by Dr Pietsch on the colouring materials of the 
Libyan rock paintings have revealed- its presence).' The colour soaked into the 
sandstone. The early period paintings did not last as long as those that had 
soaked in. Pigments at Tassili were abundant schists. There are few indications 
to tell how the painters had worked. 

East Africa 

'Sandawa informants in Tanzania told Dr Eric Ten Raa that the syrupy 
urine of the dassie or rock hare was used as a binding agent for pigments in rock 
painting' (Biesele 1974). 


In Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia), Holiday (1961) experimented with 
pigments and binders on slabs of rock. He did not name the pigments, but 
among his media were egg white (albumen), yolk of egg, and whole egg. After 
drying in the sun, the paint was subjected to hot water and scrubbing. The 
samples with egg yolk and albumen, and only albumen 'came away more rapidly 
than egg yolk which seemed to be the more permanent'. Marrow fat with 
pigments gave the consistency of commercial floor polish and was highly 
unsuitable for painting fine lines, but could be smeared on. When the sample 
was left in the sun, the paint penetrated the rock and left a dark stain round the 
painting; even after exposure to the hot sun for several days, the pigment came 
off when rubbed, but it might have dried in time. With scrubbing, most of the 
pigment was removed, leaving a dark oily stain. Some Zambian paintings show 


the characteristic staining that comes from fat. Vegetable oils (not identified) did 
not dry and showed the characteristic staining of the rock. Castor oil is 
indigenous, and 'musikili' oil is used with ochre for body painting in Zambia, but 
appears to be non-drying — these oils were not used in the experiments. Upon 
weathering, the paint with vegetable oil seemed to be 'fairly resistant', but it was 
not as permanent as paint with egg yolk. Sap from Euphorbia, a wild rubber 
tree, and a wild fig became clear and tacky on exposure to air. It adhered to the 
brush, but when diluted with water made a good medium for paint that dried 
with a slightly glossy surface and was not tacky to the touch, contrary to the 
reports of other experimenters. A medium of gum arabic (acacia gum) dissolved 
in water gave a paint that was firm with a durable surface, and became soluble 
only after prolonged wetting. 

Photographic tests on the samples with ultra-violet and fluorescent light 
showed that kaolin, haematite, and carbon fluoresced when mixed with fat, but 
not on their own. Traces of weathered paint showed up when photographed, but 
results with superpositions of layers of paints were not satisfactory. (See also 
Clark 1954.) 


The Palaeolithic artists of Europe apparently used mineral or earth pig- 
ments and charcoal for the rock paintings; organic dyes and blood have also 
been suggested. Suggestions for media were fat, marrow, tallow, fish oil, egg, 
blood, honey, resin, and water. Blood was said to have been detected in tests; it 
darkened in experiments. Paints were liquid or paste, and crayons were found in 
caves; the artists made handprints and had a stencilling technique. 

North American rock painters used earth pigments, mainly red ochre; 
haematite was heated; charcoal was used and guano and dyes might have been 
used. The media suggested were animal and vegetable oils, animal and vegetable 
glues, egg, blood, and spittle. Some binders seem to have been water solvent. 
Media were not identified by tests (by 1967), but pigments were identified (by 
1975). Crayons or fingers were used for painting, and brushes of twigs and fibre 
were found as well as small paint mortars and containers such as shells. Some 
Indians still fashion haematite and water into cakes, which are reground and 
mixed with oil for body and rock painting, etc. Others still use Asclepias sap and 
oil seeds. Heated iron oxide and fish oil serve as a paint for waterproofing cabins 
and paddles, and fish glue was known to have been a medium for Indian paint in 
historical times. It was suggested that water or water-soluble substances for 
media would have created better bonding and more lasting paints than other 
substances. Pigments were identified by determining their metallic components. 
Other methods for determining paints were scanning electron microscopy and 
X-ray microanalysis. 

In South America the rock artists used earth pigments and, possibly, 
charcoal; iron oxides, slaked lime, and sulphate of calcium were identified in 
tests; bird guano was suggested. Cakes of pigment have been found at sites. 


Earth pigments, including haematite and huntite (white), were, and are 
still, used in Australian rock art; blood is used when renewing paintings in some 
rituals. The media used are plant sap and water, and sometimes the pigments 
are used without a medium. Rock surfaces may be prepared by rubbing with 
plant sap. Fingers and brushes of bark, sticks, or feathers are used to apply the 
paints. In initiation, blood or grease and charcoal are smeared on bodies. 

Rock artists in north Africa used earth pigments; analyses showed that 
casein (milk) and acacia gum were binders. Water might have been used. Some 
paints were thick, others fluid. 

Dassie urine was said to have been used as a binder by rock painters in 

Media suggested for Zambian paintings were egg, fat, vegetable oil, gum, 
and water, but their presence in the paintings was not proved. 

The paints suggested for South African rock paintings are discussed in the 
following section. 




Much has been written about the pigments and paints used in the rock 
paintings of southern Africa. This information is presented in chronological 
order in The Data at the end of this section, and serves as full references for the 
discussion and summary in the following pages where detailed references are not 
repeated. The terms for the various mineral pigments follow those of the 
original authors whose identifications might not always have been accurate. 


The information on the various media and the pigments, as well as the 
techniques of painting, has been assembled in tables in chronological order. It is 
difficult, often impossible, to judge the authenticity of the data, but the 
following list of categories has been devised to give an indication, at least, of 
how the various writers and informants seemed to have come by their informa- 
tion or conclusions. This is reflected in the last column of each table in this 
section. In the circumstances, it is not claimed that this assessment is accurate. 


A First-hand knowledge — painter or observer 

B Second-hand knowledge — from painter or observer, i.e. from an A 

C Third-hand knowledge, i.e. from a B person 
Ch Hearsay evidence 
D Deductions from examining paintings, archaeological evidence, 

ethnographical parallels, e.g. body paints 
E Deductions from experiments 
F Information from the literature, acknowledged 
Fu Information from the literature, unacknowledged 
G Suggestions, guesswork 
U Unauthenticated — could be any of the above 

The information from the data about the identity of the rock artists is listed 
in Table 1 and will not be discussed further (see also Who were the artists'? in the 
main introduction). 

media (Table 2) 

Nearly all the approximately forty authors listed gave fat as a medium for 
the rock paints. Most of them did not specify the kind of fat. There were 2 
references to ostrich fat, 1 to bird fat, 1 to vegetable fat or oil, 7 to marrow, and 
1 to brains. 

Table 2 
Possible media used in rock paintings. 

<£, "§ 

ia. fc -o 

Baines 1842-53 

Hahn 1879 
Kannemeyer 1890 
Impey 1896 
Squire 1905 
Von Luschaw 1908 
Balfour 1909 
Bleek, E. & D. 1909 
Moszeik 1910 
Moszeik 1910 
Moszeik 1910 
Christol 1911 
Currle- 1913 

Peringuey/AWH 1913 

Peringuey 1913 

Peringuey 1913, 1914 
Apthorp 1913 
Muller 1914 

Melle 1916 
Roberts 1916 

Dornan 1917 
Theal 1919 
Dornan 1925 
Huss & Otto 1925 
Huss & Otto 1925 

Huss & Otto 1925 

BUI K.lf l<? lh" ""•■ 

Lebzelter 1930 
Lebzelter 1930 
Dunn 1931 

Dunn 1931 
Mason 1933 
Wells 1933 
Battiss 1948 
Van Riet Lowe 1951 
Ellenberger 1953 

Ellenberger 1953 
Ellenberger 1953 
Hey 1954 
Willcox 1956 
Johnson 1957 

How 1962 

How 1962 

How 1962 

Steyn & Steyn 1962 

Denninger 1963 et seq 

Friendly 1963 

Rudner & Rudner 

1970, 1978 
Pager 1971 
Willcox 1971 
Willcox 1971 
Huwiler 1972 

Huwiler 1972 
Johnson 1975 
Vinnicombe 1976 
Vinnicombe 1976 
Vinnicombe 1976 
Butzer el al. 1979 

'An old Hottentot told 

me'; 'indelible' 




Eland fat and marrow 




Bird fat 



G? U 

'Said to have been' 


E U 

Quotes others 


Rubia tinctoria sap 


Including 'Asclepiad' 


With mushroom powder; 

lasting, hard 


Crayon on honey on rock, 

'would scale off 


'Accepted' that fat was 

used, lasting 






Fat made haematite 



With 'red pigment. 



With haematite 


With 'bricklike pigment 

heated to dry' 


Or saliva 


With ochres 


Hot fat, warmed paint 


Charcoal only, came off 


Aloe sap, gum, with 

charcoal; soluble 


With soot or kaolin 

for crayon 

E a 

Also Euphorbia \a«x 

G \J 

Told by a farmer 


Aloe sap, gum 

U Fu? 

Blood formerly thought 

a medium 



'By tradition' 


With coloured minerals 


Also salt 



Melted fat, but not 

with ochre 


From Basotho 


G? U 

Euphorbia or honey 


Quotes others 


Including egg tempera. 

wax resin — experiments 



With ochre by Sotho 

painter; not rainproof 


'Asclepia' sap with 

white clay; not rainproof 

B? U 

None with charcoal 

B? U 

Various suggestions 


Quote and misquote 


Blood, serum, or none 



Melted or ostrich fat 

for fine lines 


Quotes Denninger 


Quotes Denninger 


Suggests dried blood 


And beeswax; negative 


G E 

Acceptable results 


'Plant albumin', gelatine; 

good results 


Euphorbaceae; best results 





Increases durability 


And 'albuminous' binders 



Just how authentic is this information, judging by the available evidence? Of 
those who mentioned the use of unidentified, presumably animal, fats, both Hahn 
and Dornan had known of 'Bushman' artists in their time in South West Africa and 
Botswana respectively, but neither stated categorically that they had seen them 
painting, in fact, Dornan (1917) said that he had been told of it; Dornan (1925) once 
saw a 'half-bred Bushman' painting and using melted fat — the painter was paid for 
his efforts. This information could be category A or B. 

It seems that Hahn meant that fat, honey, and gum had been used together 
in South West Africa (category A or B), but gum would certainly have had to be 
dissolved in water to have been effective as a medium. It seems like a sticky 
paste that the artists might have had to apply with their fingers. 

Baines had received his information from 'an old Hottentot' who said he 
had seen painters at work, and Ellenberger's information came from an old 
Basotho woman who had also seen painters — both B category evidence. 
Apthorp's information from the eastern Cape falls into category C. It is not clear 
from Wells whether his information falls into category C, or whether it is 
hearsay evidence (category Ch) — according to Mason, none of the informants 
who had spoken to the researchers, including Wells, had seen rock painters. 
Black indigenous peoples in southern Africa also mix pigments with fat (see 
previous section) and the informants might have been drawing on their own 
experience. Rudner & Rudner used ethnographical evidence when they sug- 
gested fat for rock paints (category D); a few, such as Muller, Moszeik, 
Magennis, Huwiler, and Johnson arrived at their conclusions by means of 
experiments, based variously on suggestions in the literature, their own deduc- 
tions and, probably, some guesswork. 

Most of the other evidence seems to fall into the last categories, i.e. 
information from the literature (acknowledged and unacknowledged), deduc- 
tions (perhaps from ethnographical knowledge), and guesswork. It is not known 
why Schapera mentioned fat 'of certain animals' — he did not say which animals. 
Vinnicombe was apparently quoting Moszeik, Adam, and a letter when writing 
that 'mortar stones containing pulverized ochre mixed with animal fat' had been 
found in painted shelters — but Moszeik (1910) said no such thing and Adam had 
misquoted him. 

Durability of red ochre mixed with grease was illustrated by Burchell's 
remark that the red stain on his waggon was difficult to remove. 

According to Holliday (1961, see previous section), the presence of fat can 
be revealed by the use of ultra-violet photography. 

Currle's evidence regarding the use of ostrich fat with red mushroom 
powder falls into category B. Rudner & Rudner suggested its possible use for 
painting fine lines as it remains fluid when rendered (category D). 

Muller suggested 'vegetable fat' (the only such reference found) from an 
examination of a painted slab. 

Vinnicombe misquoted Wells (1933) as saying that the use of eland fat was 
traditional — it was Mason (1933), published in the same journal, who wrote 


that, and his information had come from black informants who had not seen 
painters. Eland, as other big game, carry more fat than smaller antelope that 
generally have little fat, and the big game are, therefore, prized for their fat (see 
section on the Bushmen). Peringuey was wrong in saying that the only antelope 
with fat was the eland — the bodies of all antelopes and, indeed, mammals 
generally contain fat (Acting Director, National Zoological Gardens, 1970 pers. 
comm.). In some areas such as South West Africa, the gemsbok is prized for its 
fat. • 

The information regarding the use of marrow falls into the lower categor- 
ies — it is either guesswork or otherwise unauthenticated. Strey did not give the 
reference when he quoted Hahn as saying that 'ostrich marrow' had been one of 
the media with fat and honey, and it is not in the paper where Hahn mentioned 
fat, honey, and gum as media. Unlike other birds, some ostrich bones do 
contain marrow — the tarsometatarsus, tibiotarsus, and humerus are completely 
filled with marrow, while the femur is filled with spongy bone; the ostrich also 
has a thick layer of abdominal fat (W. B. Appel, Die Klein Karoo Land- 
boukooperasie Bpk., Oudtshoorn, 1979 pers. comm.). 

What are the properties of oil-based paints? According to Doerner (1949), 
fatty oils in paints used by artists (not rock artists) are of vegetable origin and 
are either drying or non-drying; semi-drying oils that are closely related are the 
fish oils and animal fats. The drying of fatty oils is the result of absorption of 
oxygen from the air, and water in small quantities is a necessary factor in the 
drying of fatty oils. In the open and under unfavourable conditions the oil coat 
may disintegrate owing to the effects of the temperature: the once elastic 'skin' 
becomes brittle, cracks, and can be rubbed off like a powder resembling flour. 
Quiet air, coolness and darkness retard drying. Fatty oils turn yellow, and white 
paint may become yellow. Temperature affects the fluidity of oil. Battiss 
suggested that 'oil' was not used in rock painting as this would lead to shrinking 
and cracking — but this is not likely if the paint had impregnated the rock. 

Experimenters outside southern Africa found that fat was not a good binder 
(e.g. Dewdney in Dewdney & Kidd 1967; Holliday 1961 — see previous section). 
It has been noted that North American Indians used fish oil and fish glue in their 
paints, but there is no evidence for such use in southern Africa, nor is it likely 
that these substances were used. 

The author experimented with rendered beef fat (which is not the softest 
kind of fat) placed in a container in the sun for a few minutes to melt. Some of it 
was mixed with fine ash, some with charcoal (the only pigments available at the 
time), and similar mixtures were made with the addition of a little water to form 
emulsions, while other mixtures were made with water and the pigments only. 
The 'paints' were applied with chewed match ends to a rough pebble of Table 
Mountain Sandstone. 

The sun-warmed fat-and-pigment mixtures applied well to the stone with 
fine lines possible and set quickly, the mixtures with water only could be applied 
equally well but the charcoal seemed to 'float' a little until the water had 


penetrated the stone, and the emulsions could be applied best of all with finer 
lines than with the other mixtures. The ash with fat only was a darker grey than 
the other ash mixtures and the water paint was the lightest. The black appeared 
to be the same intensity in all three mixtures with charcoal. In both kinds of 
mixtures where the fat only had been used, the paint on the stone was slightly 
thicker. Three weeks later the stone was placed under a normal garden spray, 
the painted surface vertical. After 6 hours the ash-and-water paint had run a 
little so that the upper part of the painted stroke was thinner than the lower 
where the excess paint had accumulated. The charcoal-and-water paint had all 
but disappeared, and the other paints were unchanged. 

There is no doubt that warmed fat would have been a suitable medium, 
particularly soft fat, but that an emulsion of fat and water would have been 
better. Only time will tell which of these paints will stand up best to weathering. 
The author cannot see any point in rubbing and scrubbing experimental paint- 
ings (as has been done) as this hardly simulates natural conditions. The majority 
of the paintings that have been preserved are in sheltered positions and untold 
numbers in protected positions must have disappeared. 


Urine as a medium was suggested by four writers, one of whom (Willcox 
1956) submitted that analysis of some paint had shown a high nitrogen content 
consistent with urine having been the medium. Huwiler's experiments with urine 
as a medium proved negative. 

Human urine normally contains amino acids, but there are relatively few 
and they are fugitive (R. Stead, Blood Transfusion Service, 1979 pers. comm.). 
(See also Blood below.) 

Moszeik's information from another person that Bushmen had used 'rock 
rabbit' excrement for paint probably falls into category Ch information: the 
excrement usually consists of a mixture of dung and urine and was found in tests 
to consist mainly of carbonates (see Fig. 4). The Sandawe in Tanzania were said 
to have used 'dassie urine' as a binding agent for pigments in rock paintings, 
according to Biesele (1974) (mentioned previously). 


According to How, a Basotho man who had seen Bushmen painting, said 
that blood was a medium; he had wanted eland blood for experimental paintings 
(category B information). His painting that had been left outdoors did not last, 
those kept indoors lasted for years. Ellenberger said that the Basotho 'insisted' 
that blood had been used in paint — for lack of further information this must be 
regarded as category Ch evidence. How suggested that paint mixed with blood 
and 'black earth' may become brown, but it is not clear whether it was meant 
here that blood gave the brown colour. The closest evidence that blood was used 
in rock paintings came from Lesotho only, but it was in these Drakensberg 


regions where the last painters operated (with the exception of Harm's evidence 
on South West Africa and Dornan's evidence on northern Botswana) and where 
information could still be obtained earlier this century. Dunn, who worked 
among the Bushmen, said only that blood was formerly thought to have been a 
medium. He believed that plant sap was used with pigments. Moszeik quoted 
Bent as writing that blood was a main ingredient for paint. Friendly's informa- 
tion was probably from the literature. Others quoted Denninger's experiments 
without necessarily accepting his conclusions on the presence of blood in rock 
paints. Butzer et al. probably obtained their (unreferenced) information about 
the presence of 'albuminous binders' in rock paints from Denninger's work. 
According to Vinnicombe, her experiments (not described) showed that the 
durability of the paint was increased when blood was added, but the duration of 
the experiment was not given. Huwiler found that blood used on its own could 
be removed only with hard rubbing or washing, and used with pigments it could 
be washed off, but he did not state how long the paint had been allowed to set. 
Willcox apparently accepted Denninger's conclusions, but said that, when blood 
was used as a medium, the painters would have had to work very quickly before 
the blood clotted or they might have had a method of drying and reconstituting 
the blood to prevent it from clotting. 

The greatest protagonist of blood as an ingredient for paints was Dennin- 
ger. He maintained in one report (c. 1966£>) that all rock paintings examined in 
South and South West Africa had been painted almost without exception with 
animal blood or blood serum as media. He was quoted in this by Pager. But in 
the same report, and others, Denninger (1963, c. 1966a) conceded that there 
were paint samples in which amino acids were not found, or in which binders 
were not found and had perhaps not been used. He concluded in his report of c. 
1966b that those samples without amino acids either did not contain albuminous 
media or were older than 2 000 years (the time taken for amino acids to 
disappear, according to his method); elsewhere (Denninger 1963) he came to the 
strange conclusion that because in 'all samples containing amino acids protein 
containing fixing agents were used, therefore those without amino acids must 
have had similar fixatives and were therefore over 2 000 years' — and he repeated 
this assertion. 

In various of these reports Denninger remarked on a sinter that had formed 
over some paintings and would have acted as a protecting layer; Kiihn (1952) 
also suggested that the sinter over some Spanish rock paintings would have 
protected them (see previous section). 

One can point out here that spittle contains amino acids and so does 
marrow (R. Stead 1979 pers. comm.). 

Denninger made experimental paint with the fresh blood of a sheep as an 
ingredient: it was claimed to be waterproof after 6 months, undamaged by water 
and brushes. 

When referring to a dark-brown painting, Denninger wrote that 'it is fairly 
certain that it is a painting of ochre fixed with blood and executed approximately 


within the last 50 years', and that the iron in the blood first darkens in colour 
and 'after a few centuries' starts to become lighter brown. 'Since such iron- 
brown paintings, which have shown themselves to be very old by the absence of 
amino acids (over 2 000 years) have been found at other sites ... it can be 
concluded that blood was used as a fixative.' Statements such as this defy all 
logic, and it also seems that Denninger believes that the colour of these brown 
paintings, over 2 000 years old by his reckoning, is partly due to the blood 
apparently used as a medium. 

A closer look at some of these statements about blood by Denninger and 
others is necessary. 

Blood starts to congeal within a few minutes. Various authors (How 1962, 
Willcox 1971) have suggested that when using blood the artists would have had 
to work quickly. The use of serum, which remains fluid, has been suggested 
(Denninger 1963, c. 19666). How would the painters have obtained serum? The 
process is simple: whole blood need only stand for some 24 hours or so when the 
clear, yellowish serum comes to the top and the thick matter sinks to the 
bottom; 1 litre of blood will yield 300-400 millilitres of serum (R. Stead 1979 
pers. comm.). 

But there is also a simple and effective way of preventing blood from 
clotting. Acting on information received during fieldwork among the Nama 
people in South West Africa (see section on the present-day Nama), the author 
used a bowl of freshly taken blood from a slaughtered sheep and whisked it with 
little bunches of twigs, discarding each bunch as it became clotted with fibrin. 
The blood that remained was kept in a refrigerator for 14 days, when it was 
discarded. It had not congealed but had darkened slightly. On the farm in the 
Carnarvon district where this experiment took place, the coloured workers also 
knew of this method. It was known to the early nineteenth century settlers who 
used such whisked blood with 'stale milk' or vegetable oils, quicklime or cement, 
to which they added ground earth pigments for painting the exteriors of houses, 
especially the woodwork (Lewcock 1963). 

At the Maitland abattoirs, Cape Town, the author found that a 2-litre jug of 
blood freshly taken from an ox congealed in 4-5 minutes to a stiff, jellied mass 
with very little liquid in the container. (Farmers catch blood from slaughtered 
animals by letting it run along a channel or funnel into a wide basin, thereby 
allowing it to cool and retarding the congealing process (P. Pretorius, South 
African Museum, 1980 pers. comm.).) At the abattoirs a second jug of blood 
was poured into three separate jars within a minute of having been taken from 
an ox. That in one jar was whisked with twigs to remove the fibrin and remained 
uncongealed for a week before being discarded. The second jar also contained a 
handful of small pebbles, and the blood in this jar was thoroughly shaken to 
break up the fibrin (butchers use this method when making blood products (A. 
J. Louw, Director Maitland Abattoir, 1980 pers. comm.)); it had not congealed 
even after a week, but had a thick, finely granular consistency. The blood in the 
third jar was not disturbed, and separated into a congealed mass with a very 


small amount of clear, yellowish serum on top. The red colour of the three lots 
of blood was the same after a week. 

Various experimental mixtures with and without pigments and fat were 
painted on a slab of coarse quartzitic sandstone but it is still too early for 
adequate results. 

Some years ago some of the sheep blood without the fibrin was smeared on 
a fairly rough slab of quartzitic sandstone by means of a stick. The stone was left 
on a high ledge facing west under a verandah in the south-Western Cape, where 
it remained for years, untouched by direct sunlight or rain. After some days the 
red blood had already turned dark brown, it became black, after less than 2 
years it had started to fade until it was a light brown, and before 4 full years had 
passed there was no visible sign that there had ever been blood smears. 
According to Schwerd (1962: 44-46), blood spots become brown when they dry 
and become increasingly 'grey' as they age, especially if exposed to direct 
sunlight — this is due to the ultra-violet rays; he stated that 10 hours of sun has 
the same effect as 6 days of diffused light, and fresh blood is more water soluble 
than old blood. 

Denninger's suggestion, or implication, that 'very old' brown paintings in 
which amino acids had not been found, had had blood in them apparently because 
of the brown colour, and that the blood in the paint starts to fade 'after a few 
centuries' is strongly questioned. It may be that blood will take longer to fade when 
mixed with other substances, but blood used on its own would not have lasted as a 
colour for more than a few years. Forensic specialists have not been able to supply 
the author with positive information, and long-term experimentation is necessary 
to arrive at the answers. (See also blood under Pigments below.) 

Conflicting statements by others about the durability of paints mixed with 
blood in experiments have been made; these, too, will require testing under 
properly controlled conditions. 

It is not clear why Denninger mentions the presence of only ten amino acids 
in fresh blood, when various other experts who have been consulted maintain 
that there must be twenty or more, nor is it clear why he claims that the, often 
few, amino acids detected in paint samples must be those of blood and blood 
only. The following notes have been supplied by R. Stead of the Western 
Province Blood Transfusion Service (1979 pers. comm.) after consultation with 
colleagues: 'In the first place I think that we have a problem of terminology in 
translating German to English, since the term albumin (or albumen) is used 
frequently in place of the term "protein" in our English terminology. I suspect 
that on several occasions Dr Denninger is referring to proteins in general, 
whereas we would interpret him to be referring to albumin (i.e. possibly derived 
from blood). Secondly, we have reservations about the technical aspect of amino 
acids terminations as used by Dr Denninger. He is using a relatively crude 
technique, which distinguishes ten groups of amino acids, and hence changes in 
any one of these groups could be attributed to several causes. Modern tech- 
niques permit one to identify twenty or more amino acids, which provides far 


greater specificity in detecting differences between proteins of differing origin, 
or changes in a single protein during weathering. Bearing in mind this limitation 
on the technical side, we come now to the general question of amino acid 
availability as a means of estimating the age of a painting. Naturally this is a 
specialized field in itself, and I can only offer a few questions as they arise to me 
as a non-specialist viewing the conclusions which have been drawn from this 
work. It seems vital if one is to maintain a close relationship between ageing and 
amino acid content, that the weathering conditions be tightly controlled and I 
find it difficult to imagine either that weathering conditions are insignificant, or 
that they have been sufficiently well controlled in so many diverse locations and 
conditions of temperature, humidity, etc. For example, a protein which was 
mixed with an alkaline white wash and subjected to European weathering 
conditions, can hardly be compared with a protein in a dry, hot rock painting 
environment in Africa. Even assuming that one has dealt with this problem, a 
second problem arises, namely the question of protein source. I seriously 
question Dr Denninger's claim to be able to identify a protein source from the 
amino acid profile obtained with his procedure. Even if one were able to define 
protein source from the amino acid profile, one still has the problem of 
differentiating in a given painting between the effects of ageing and differences 
due to protein source alone. A simple example of this problem springs to mind 
in the comparison of clotted or unclotted blood. If blood were used as a base 
before clotting occurred, the base would contain fibrin, whereas if serum were 
used (i.e. after clotting) the fibrin protein would be absent. Different amino acid 
profiles should result, due to difference in protein source alone. How does Dr 
Denninger account for these differences without knowing a priori what the 
protein source is? In summary then, Dr Denninger's results raise more questions 
than they answer. It may be that these issues have been tested and dealt with 
elsewhere, but this is not apparent from the paper which you have given me.' 
(Nor is it apparent from any of the papers that the author has seen.) On the 
question of clotting, R. Stead wrote as follows: 'One could imagine several ways 
of preventing clotting in the field, so to speak. Clotting might be delayed by low 
temperatures (i.e. in winter), by continuous agitation of the blood, by dilution, 
or even by addition of certain inorganic components (e.g. clay) which might be 
used as a component of the paint, and which might bind calcium ions and hence 
prevent clotting. The classical method of defibrination involves agitation in the 
presence of small particles (e.g. twigs) which serve to bind the fibrin chain as it 
begins to form. One could also imagine clotting being prevented by natural 
antagonists such as snake venoms, some of which would also cause lysis of the 
erythrocytes, producing a more intensely coloured liquid.' 

The suggestion that blood might have been used by rock artists is not 
unique to southern Africa — in a previous section it was noted that the use of 
blood or blood serum was suggested for European Palaeolithic paintings and for 
North American rock paintings, and that it was used for painting in the East 
Indies in the seventeenth century. 



According to Apthorp, water and fat (together?) were used with pigments 
for rock paintings (category C information). Huss & Otto suggested the use of 
water with soot or kaolin for making crayons, or with ochres for paints (D? or 
G? category); Schapera did not say how he arrived at the information that water 
or saliva had been a medium; How's experimental painter used water with 
ochre, and Huwiler's experiments with water and pigments proved negative. 

As water is always freely available, it could have been an obvious medium 
for paints and must have been used sometimes, but whether these paintings 
lasted is another matter; perhaps those in protected shelters might have en- 

It was noted previously that some peoples such as the black people in 
southern Africa and the Australian Aborigines mix pigments with water, and 
Dewdney, in his study of North American rock paintings, suggested that water 
mixed with pigments would have provided ideal bonding to the rock. Red ochre, 
which is fine-grained, has excellent staining properties, but other pigments such 
as the white kaolin and gypsum, which are not as fine-grained, are known not to 
be as durable. 


Battiss suggested milk and salt as media, possibly because of knowledge of 
paints used by artists. Willcox included milk in his list of media suggested by 
others. Friendly mentioned milk without giving his source of information — it was 
possibly taken from the literature. Where would hunter-gatherers have obtained 
milk other than when they had stolen cattle or killed a lactating animal? The 
Bushmen did, indeed, acquire a few head of cattle from time to time, and some 
had small herds in the nineteenth century (e.g. Campbell 1822 2: 287); and the 
Hottentots were mainly herders; but there is as yet no scientific basis for this 
suggestion of milk as a medium, and in the next sections on the Bushmen and 
Hottentots the use of milk will be examined (as well as of other suggested 
substances) to see whether there is any traditional basis for this suggestion. 

As noted above, traces of milk were said to have been found in paintings in 
north Africa, and its presence or absence in our paintings could perhaps be 
ascertained chemically. 


Battiss suggested egg as a medium for rock paints. Johnson suggested egg 
tempera and found in his experiments that fine lines were possible with it as a 
medium, and that it produced the best results, but he did not give his exact 
ingredients. He stated that in thin layers at ordinary temperatures the albumen 
becomes insoluble in water. Steyn & Steyn misquoted Johnson in saying that egg 
tempera was 'one of the most popular' media for rock paintings. Huwiler found in 
his experiments that paint with white of egg applied well but came off with hard 
rubbing or washing. Denninger dismissed the possibility of albumen-containing 


(albumen in egg, etc. , albumin in blood) whites of egg (why not whole egg?) having 
been used as 'their binding action is not resistant to solution by water to the degree 
required for the preservation of paintings on outdoor sites'. (Information on 
tempera paints has been noted in the previous section; see also here below.) 

All this remains conjecture and there is, as yet, no chemical evidence that 
egg was used as a medium for rock paints. Egg has also been suggested as a 
medium for paints used by rock artists in other parts of the world, but no 
evidence for its use was traced. 

In his book on materials for modern artists, Doerner (1949) stated that egg 
white is very brittle and comes off easily if too much is used, or if it is used by 
itself as a ground (p. 26). Painting with egg yolk on dry walls was formerly a 
common practice and egg yolk and lime combine very solidly. The colours are 
ground to a stiff consistency with a little water and mixed 1 : 1 with yolk of egg. 
The painting would become 'as hard as stone'; 'indoors it is absolutely reliable, 
but out of doors only where sufficiently protected' (p. 300). Egg tempera 
consists of whole egg, oil, and water mixed in that order (p. 213). One can use 
the egg yolk alone — yolk of egg will absorb an amount of oily substances equal 
to its own oil content. White of egg contains about 85 per cent water, very little 
oil and about 12 per cent albumen, the specific adhesive substance of the egg 
white, of which the yolk contains more, about 15 per cent. 'Egg white becomes 
hard when heated to about 70 °C, but also when simply exposed to sunlight.' 
The egg (whole egg) emulsion dries, r forming a very elastic skin, which becomes 
waterproof and unusually hard, much more resistant than oil colour (p. 214). 
Egg yolk was used as tempera in medieval recipes, by itself, and with water, 
sometimes with the juice of fig sprouts. Egg tempera is today the most used 
tempera. It adheres well to all grounds, and becomes gradually insoluble in 
water. It gives a smooth, soft brush stroke. Egg white was also used for tempera 
in the early Middle Ages. 'Egg white sets when exposed to light, that is to say, it 
becomes insoluble in water' (p. 216). 

Plant sap 

Several people suggested the use of plant juices for mixing with the 
pigments and even their use as paints, but some plant latexes, which are white 
when fresh, dry colourless. The closest to any acceptable evidence were the 
deductions by Peringuey that the juice of an 'Asclepiad' might have been used 
because it was called 'Bushman's paint plant' by the Basotho, Ellenberger's 
information from the Basotho that plant juices had been used, and How's 
information that the juice of "Asclepia gibba' (Motsoko oa Baroa, motsoko of 
the Bushmen) had been used with white clay (category B?). How suggested the 
use of various other plant juices for media, without saying why. The guess by De 
Laport and Peringuey that the red infusion of the elandsboontjie root could have 
been used with pigments (or by itself) for paint is a probability, as farmers are 
known to have used it. Huss & Otto's suggestion of aloe juice was apparently 
copied by Lebzelter. 


(It was noted previously that Indians in California use Asclepias sap and 
vegetable oil for a paint. Doerner (1949: 211) noted that there are in nature a 
large number of emulsions for present-day artists, such as egg, especially the 
yolk, milk, the milky juice of young fig sprouts, the dandelion, the milkweed, 

Botanists have supplied the author with information on the plants men- 
tioned above. The elandsboontjie, Elephantorrhiza elephantina is very common 
throughout the highveld of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. It is also found 
in parts of Natal, Lesotho, Swaziland, South West Africa, the Kalahari, and in 
parts of the north-western and eastern Cape, but not in the south-western Cape 
(J. P. Rourke, National Botanic Gardens of South Africa, 1970 pers. comm.) 
(see also Plant pigments in section on the Nama). 

Information on How's suggested plants came from A. Jacot-Guillarmod 
(Rhodes University, 1971 pers. comm.): 'Motsoko oa Baroa means "Asclepias 
of the Bushmen" and this name is still regularly used for two species of 
asclepias, A. eminens and A. gibba. Rete la nt ja could be species of Asclepias, 
Asparagus, Eulophia or Euphorbia. Most often it is applied to Euphorbia striata 
Thunb. Sehloko may apply to Parapodium costatum — I do not know for cer- 
tain — but sehamela poli certainly applies. . . . All Asclepiads contain a milky 
latex, as do Euphorbia species. Euphorbia clavarioides is a cushion type of 
Euphorbia which is regularly scarified by Basotho herdboys and the dried latex 
later collected for use as chewing-gum. This is the species most likely to have 
been used for large-scale collection of latex, together with the larger Asclepiads 
such as Parapodium spp, Xysmalobium spp, Pachycarpus spp, etc., all fairly 
common formerly. Another possible Euphorbia species is E. epicyparissias, still 
fairly common. I include a list of Sesotho names for the scientific names of all 
those I mention . . . but, please note, with no absolute certainty that the 
specimens will be in complete correspondence with what I give — some parts of 
the country have different terms or a slight shift in naming.' 

Asclepias eminens montsoko; montsuku; motseko; motsoko; motsoku: mot- 


A . gibba as for A . eminens 

A. species lerete-la-ntja; rete-la-ntja 

Asparagus species rete-la-ntja 

Eulophia clavicornis vars. rete-la-ntja 

Euphorbia clavarioides sehlehle; sehloko; thethebale 

E. epicyparissias sehlakoana-se-senyenyane 

E w . natalensis sehlakoana-se-senyenyane 

E. striata matsoane; mohlatsisa; mositsane 

E. species rete-la-ntja; sehloko-se-seholo 

Pachycarpus rigidus leraka-mpshane; leshokhoana; maraka-mpshane; mpsha- 

tle-ea-thaba; phoma-metso; pho tsehla; tsoenyaling 

P. vexillaris leshokhoa 

P. species sehoete-nchoatle 

Parapodium costatum sehamela-poli 

Xysmalobium parviflorum leoto-la-khoho; ntsime; tsoetla 

X. undulatum leshokhoa; poho-tsehla 

X. zeyheri lithelo; sehoete-mohlaka 


This list of names was sent to S. Talukdar of the then University of 
Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland at Roma, who sent the author samples of 
some of these plants, listed as follows (S. Talukdar 1971 pers. comm.): 

Asclepia eminens montsokoana (montsoko in your reference) 

A. species lereta-la-ntja, rete-la-ntja 

Asparagus dentatus leraratau (rete-le-ntja in your reference) 

Euphorbia clavarioides sehloko 

E. striata - matsoane, mohlatsisa, mositsane 

Pachycarpus rigidus leshokhoana 

Xysmalobium parviflorum monkiling (leoto-la-khoho in your letter) 

X. undulatum leshokhoa, poho-tsela 

'The collectors were shown herbarium specimens and noted that the names 
given by you do not always agree with theirs.' 

The plants, or parts of plants, had been collected in April, i.e. after the 
summer rains, and were in a fresh state, having been brought to Cape Town by 
air. Those parts that would yield sap were grated and the pulp was then 
squeezed in an orange press — the results were minimal. For instance, a root of 
Xysmalobium sp. 200 mm long and c. 1,5 mm in diameter, and another of 
X. undulatum, 300 mm long and up to 40 mm in diameter in places, each 
produced about 15 ml (1 teaspoonful) of sap. A root of Asclepias eminens, 
300 mm long and 15 mm in diameter, produced only enough moisture to leave a 
sticky feeling on the hands. With Pachycarpus rigidus there was a little latex 
apparent on breaking the 100 mm piece of root, but none was apparent after 
grating and squeezing. The root of Asclepias sp. showed spiderweb-like strands 
of sticky latex, but there was no juice to be extracted. Others produced less or 
no sap. It may be that with heating more sap could have been obtained but, in 
any event, a great deal of plant material and a lot of preparation would have 
been necessary had the artists used such materials. Infusions in water might have 
produced some sort of binder. 


Hahn noted that the Bushmen painters in southern South West Africa used 
fat, gum, and honey as media — he might have meant that they were used 
together. Others mentioned gum as a medium, but it amounted to no more than 
speculation, or plagiarism. 

Lhote (1959: 196-197) claimed that tests showed the presence of acacia gum 
in north African rock paintings. Gum has been a constituent in some European 
paints for centuries and was used in ancient Egypt. There is every likelihood that 
our own rock artists might have found it a useful ingredient for their paints, too, 
but water would certainly have had to be added. Whether the paintings would 
have lasted is another matter. 


As mentioned before, Bushmen painters in South West Africa were said to 
have used honey in their paints, and, according to a letter from A. W. H[ey] to 


the Daily Despatch (quoted by Peringuey), in the eastern Cape honey was 
applied to the rock and a crayon of stone was rubbed over it — this information 
had come from old Thembus. Peringuey thought that honey would eventually 
'scale off, but that a fatty substance would not. Hey (1954) repeated years later 
that honey was said to have been used. Information by others on the use of 
honey amounted to suggestions only. Johnson found in his experiments that it 
washed off — the ants that went with it would no doubt have destroyed the 
painting in the end, anyway; and Huwiler's experiments with honey proved 

'In Spanish recipes (Pacheco 1649) rye paste mixed with olive oil and honey 
is mentioned. On top of this two oil coats were applied. No wonder such 
grounds would not last!' (Doerner 1949). 

Other media 

Other media that were suggested were: saliva, by Dornan (category B), 
copied by Schapera; salt, by Battiss (a guess); bile, by Johnson who found it to 
be 'successful' in his experiments, but that a large quantity would have to be 
'laborously procured and mixed' — he did not say why he had chosen it; wax 
resin, by Johnson, also only a suggestion; beeswax, which proved negative in 
Huwiler's experiments; and gelatine, which proved to be good in Huwiler's 
experiments but it required the cooking of bones to get it — the two latter media 
were guesses. 

Both the Egyptians and the Romans used beeswax in some of their paints 
(noted previously), so there must be some way in which it can be successfully 
included in a paint. 

Scholars of rock paintings in North America suggested the use of animal 
glues as binders, and there is definite evidence that fish glues had been used by 
the American Indians for paints. 

In subsequent sections it will be examined whether or not the Khoisan 
peoples were known to have used such substances in any way. A use for stomach 
liquid was not suggested, but it is known to have been used by Khoisan peoples 
in the absence of water — such use will be examined later. 

pigments (Table 3) 

Reds, browns 

Earth pigments 

Various iron oxides for use as pigments in the rock paintings have been 
mentioned and the various names for these have been used loosely and probably 
inaccurately sometimes. The colours of these mineral pigments, which occur 
widely, range from metallic greys with red in them, to reds, browns, yellowish 
browns, and yellows. 

Table 3 
Possible pigments used in rock paintings. 

reds/brown yellow 

Somerville 1799-1802 

Barcow 1806 
Baines 1842-53 

clays clays 

Scully 1911 
Apthorp 1913 
Cun« 1913 

Peringuey 1913 

Peringuey/AWH 1913 

Wood 1913 

De Laporle 1914 

Peringuey 1914 
Peringuey 1914 
Peringuey 1914 
Roberts 1916 

Dornan 1917 

Peringuey 1919 

Theal 1919 
Dornan 1925 
Huss & Olio 1925 

clay charcoal 

With water and fat 
With ostrich fat; 
lasting, hard 

i crayon on honey 

Allegedly i 
With fat, '! 

and rock painting 
With boiling fat 

With water 
With gum, ws 

From others 

charcoal phos- 

Found in shelters 

Durable; from 
De Laporte? 
Rock weathers 

Dunn 1931 
Mason 1933 
Wells 1933 
Segal 1935 

clays charcoal. 


Segal 1935 
Goodwin 1946 









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Red oxide (ferric iron, Fe 2 3 ) ranges from light to dark red; the main iron 
ore is haematite. Crystalline forms are the varieties specularite (brilliant flakes), 
and kidney ore (rounded masses with radial structure), which are bluish grey to 
black and metallic with a reddish streak. The earthy, powdery forms are red 
ochre. Hydrous ferric oxide (2Fe 2 3 . 3H 2 0) varies from yellow and reddish 
yellow to brown and dark-brown varieties; the principal ore is limonite. Goe- 
thite (FeO(OH)) is distinguished from limonite in being crystalline, and may be 
brownish black, yellow, or red. 

The ferric oxides are fast colours. 

Peringuey deduced that specular iron was used in paints because of caches 
of this mineral found in pots or in ostrich egg-shells. He mixed some with fat as 
an experiment. Hahn mentioned the use by Bushman painters of 'fatty red 
stone', and by Hottentot women painters of red ochre. He did not state 
categorically that he had actually seen the painters at work, and his identification 
of the painters appears to be ambiguous: in the 1879 reference it is 'Bushmen', 
in 1881 it is 'Khoikhoi', but the areas mentioned seem to be the same; it could 
be that he was referring to the Hottentot-speaking Saan Bushmen (see p. 8). 
Stanford's informant mentioned the use of earth pigments and apparently knew 
of painters, but whether he actually saw them painting is not clear. The 
information about painters and their paints, including iron oxides, from Dornan 
may be category A or, more likely, B information; although he did see a 
'half-bred Bushman' making paintings, he did not say whether this was by 
chance or at his request. How's information about pigments clearly falls into 
category B. 

Category C information came from Apthorp, copied by Peringuey. Hearsay 
evidence (category Ch) came from the letters of Wood, Peringuey, and 'A. W. 
H.', and also from Wells, who mentioned 'coloured minerals', which would have 
included iron oxides. 

Some people arrived at their conclusions about the use of iron oxides as 
pigments by deduction or by experiments or both. Of these Segal and Denninger 
actually analysed the paints to conclude that among the ingredients there had 
been iron oxides. And the last categories in the list, F-U, were well represented. 

Burchell and Magennis found that iron oxide pigments with fat made a 
tenacious paint, but Roberts said that, according to another source, 'it could be 
immediately rubbed off no matter how long it had been left to dry. 

Other pigments for red that were mentioned were 'calcined moist siderite' 
(an iron carbonate) and 'heated limonite' (both found in tests by Segal); 
'ferruginous shale', identified from a sample found in a cave by Hey; martite, 
suggested by Stevenson-Hamilton; and cinnebar, suggested by Battiss who said 
it may turn brown. 

Battiss thought that some paintings in 'shallow bas-relief had preserved the 
underlying rock, while the rest of the rock had eroded slightly. It is difficult to 
comprehend how he arrived at the conclusion that 'dark red 1 bodies of eland 
paintings had 'gone brown'. 



Blood for a red pigment was suggested by Squire and Balfour, both 
unsubstantiated suggestions; Peringuey stated that blood was not used, but that 
was equally unsubstantiated. Denninger claimed that his experiments proved the 
presence of blood in the paints, and he stated that blood had also been a 
pigment. The author has proved experimentally that had blood alone been used 
for paint, the red colour would have faded away completely after only a few 
years, but it could well be that the addition of other substances could retard the 
process. However, the blood would not have remained the initial bright red. 

Butzer et al. were possibly following Denninger in stating that animal blood 
had been a pigment in the paint (no references given) , and there are others who 
also quoted Denninger. 

Properly controlled experiments are now necessary to establish the facts. 

Plant pigments 

Very few plant pigments were mentioned in the suggestions regarding 
ingredients for rock paints. Currle's evidence of a red pigment from a 
'mushroom' falls into category B. 

The history of the information regarding the elandsboontjie root as a red 
pigment seems to be: Peringuey had heard of its use (he did not say how he had 
heard of it), and asked De Laporte, who was at the Sabi Game Reserve, for a 
sample; the latter experimented with an infusion that was apparently successful 
as a paint or dye; Peringuey wrote back giving the botanical name; Stevenson- 
Hamilton took up the theme 15 years later in connection with paintings in the 
Sabi area, with the information sounding so much as if it had come from the 
Peringuey-De Laporte correspondence that it is possible this information had 
one source only. 

Van Riet Lowe's (1951) statement that plant materials had not been used is 
pure guesswork, although the colours might have faded if used. Ellenberger did 
not substantiate his statement that plant pigments were seldom used in the 


Pink was mentioned by Kannemeyer, and Pager quoted Denninger that 
'burnt ochre' and quartz formed this colour in the rock paintings. Red ochre and 
a white pigment such as gypsum would do as well. 


According to most of the references, yellows came from iron oxides. The 
information from Hahn that 'Bushmen' in southern South West Africa used 
'marl', and from Dornan that 'clay' had been used for yellow could be in 
categories A or B; Stanford's information that 'iron ochre' was used could be 
category B; category C information came from Baines, who mentioned 'earths', 
and Apthorp, who mentioned 'clay' and was copied by Peringuey; Pager quoted 


Denninger's findings regarding 'burnt ochre'. The rest of the information of 
yellow pigments rested on deductions, sometimes with experiments, guesswork, 
and quoting the suggestions of others. Among the pigments mentioned were 
iron oxides, iron pyrites, dolorite, and sulphur. 


Hahn wrote of the use of lime by 'Bushmen', and Dornan wrote of 'white 
clay' (category A or B). The information of Baines ('earths') and Apthorp 
('clay') seems to fall into category C, and that of Roberts on the use of the 
kernel of 'stamvruchte' is hearsay evidence. How's informant 'thought' that clay 
was used by Lesotho Bushmen artists, probably influenced by the fact that the 
Basotho themselves used it for ceremonial purposes, as noted in a previous 
section. Denninger identified gypsum and kaolin in some paint samples. 

The other evidence falls into categories D and below — the pigments men- 
tioned were chalk, zinc oxide, volcanic sandstone or tuff, kaolin, burnt bone, 
natrolite, earth, gypsum, quartzite, calcite, talc, ash, and marl. 

Willcox suggested that plant latex might have been a white pigment. 
Holliday (see previous section) found that sap from Euphorbia, a wild rubber 
tree, and a wild fig became clear and tacky on exposure to air — further 
experiments are necessary to find out whether some plant saps do retain their 
white colour. 

The suggestion of bird droppings for a white pigment apparently originated 
with Somerville (1799-1802), and was repeated by Goodwin (1946, see also 
Goodwin 1936), but also in 1924 Gardner had suggested the use of bird guano in 
South American rock paintings (see previous section). After Goodwin, this was 
mentioned by Battiss, then Willcox, Johnson, Huwiler, again Willcox, and 
Butzer et ai, but no scientific basis for this was given. 

Of the white pigments most frequently suggested, gypsum is slightly soluble 
in water; china clay, or kaolin, and talc are practically insoluble in water. 
Students of rock art have remarked on the fact that the white paints are usually 
not as durable as the iron oxides. 


The pigment most often mentioned for black was charcoal. Here, again, 
Hahn's information may belong in category A or B. How's experimental artist 
used charcoal (category B); Baines mentioned charcoal and 'black stone', and 
Apthorp mentioned charcoal — both category C information; Denninger found 
charcoal in paint samples. The rest of the information falls into D and lower 
categories and, besides charcoal, includes 'glansruss', soot, burnt bone, magne- 
tite, lampblack, manganese, graphite, and shale. The charcoal designs seen by 
Huss & Otto at the Kei River could have been late paintings, and the 'artists' 
might have been children, perhaps black children. 



Kannemeyer, Dornan, and Willcox merely mentioned that blue had been 
one of the colours used. Burkitt (1928) and Bleek (1930), perhaps from Burkitt, 
suggested phosphatic nodules for blue pigment. This is an extremely rare colour 
in rock paintings in southern Africa. 


Willcox mentioned green as a colour but that the pigment was unknown. 
Rudner & Rudner found that the apparent light green in a painting was yellow 
on black. Huwiler suggested the use of quartzite with mica and calcite for green. 
Schoonraad found green paintings in the vicinity of copper mines with surface 
outcrops of malachite, the possible source. Green is a very rare colour in the 
rock paintings. 


Moszeik had heard that dassie excrement was used as a pigment; Scully 
suggested 'plants' for pigments; and Mason mentioned finding a purplish-black 
pigment in a cavity in sandstone. 


The techniques and tools employed by the rock artists may give an indica- 
tion of the consistency of the pigments and paints that they used. 


Several workers mentioned the use of crayons for rock paintings. Dornan 
did not say whether he had seen the crayon that was made with the pigment and 
boiling fat, and it may be, like some of his other comments, category A or B 
information, but he did see a crayon being used by a 'half-bred Bushman' artist. 
'A. W. H.' (quoted by Peringuey) was told of the use of a crayon. Others 
deduced from studying the paintings that crayons of some kind had been used on 
occasion, and there were the usual guesses and unsubstantiated statements. 


Baines was told by an old Hottentot that the artists used a feather as a brush 
(category B information); Dornan got his information about the use of feathers 
by watching the above-mentioned Bushman artist at work (category A informa- 
tion). Other references to the use of a feather as a brush, particularly for fine 
lines, fall into category D, and some are apparently guesses. 

Brushes of feathers 

Dornan received information that brushes made of 'ostrich feathers' were 
used by 'Masarwa' artists (category B information). How saw a Basotho man 
(who had watched Bushman painters) using a brush made of feathers. Christol 
did not give his source of information about the use of feather brushes. 





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Brushes of hair 

Stanford was told that brushes made of the mane or tail of gnu were used 
(category B information). Ellenberger obtained the same information from a 
Basotho woman. Other information about such brushes amounted to deductions 
from studying the paintings, and unsubstantiated statements. 


Balfour wrote of 'specially prepared tendons', without giving his source of 
information. Schapera used this information. Ellenberger wrote of 'sinews', 
perhaps using this information unacknowledged as he had so often done in other 


Moszeik published category B information from a farmer that pliable bone 
splinters had been used with which to apply the paint. In the same year Whyte 
found sharpened bone splinters in Natal rock shelters, which he thought might 
have been used for this purpose. Ellenberger published Moszeik's information, 
unacknowledged, and claimed to have found such splinters in northern Lesotho. 
Three others suggested bone splinters or spatulae, perhaps influenced by some 
of the foregoing. 


Three writers suggested that sticks might have been used to apply the paints 
to the rock; one of them was Ellenberger who received other information from a 
Basotho woman, but it does not seem that he obtained this particular informa- 
tion from her. 


Apthorp had been told that a split grass stalk served as a brush (category C 

Burnt stick 

The first reference found to the use of a 'burnt stick' for making the outlines 
of the pictures was that of Dornan (1917). He had been told of its use and later 
wrote of seeing it used (categories B and A respectively). Schapera copied this 


Various students of rock art deduced that paints were sometimes applied 
with the fingers, particularly in the late paintings, and have described 'finger- 
smears' and 'finger-dots' among the paintings, as well as handprints where paint 
had been smeared on a hand that was then applied to the rock. (There were too 
many of these references to include in the data section.) Stylized handprints, 
where only a portion of the hand had been smeared with paint, are known 
(Rudner & Rudner 1970). 


Engraved outline 

Peringuey claimed that a painting that he examined had an engraved outline. 
He later exaggerated in a letter that this occurred 'often'. Van Riet Lowe (1952) 
recorded some such sites elsewhere, but the author has not seen anything like it 
in the rock art. Some lines might have been made later than the paintings. 

Horn container 

Stow recorded before 1882 that paints were kept in horn containers (cat- 
egory B information). Moszeik wrote of horn containers for paint, probably 
having obtained this information from Stow (1905), which Schapera and Friend- 
ly must have done. 

Palettes, grinding-stones 

Dunn found a 'palette' in a deposit as well as grinding-stones, and suggested 
that they had been used for pigments as traces of colour had been seen on them. 
Others, too, found similar objects (see Archaeological evidence). Peringuey had 
a bivalve shell that bore traces of pigment. 

Other techniques 

'A. W. H.', quoted by Peringuey, had been told that honey was first 
smeared on a rock-face and a clayey stone was then used to draw on that. 
Willcox and Vinnicombe reported finding white paint applied as a primer or 
outline, with colours painted on that afterwards. In a previous section it was 
noted that investigators in Canada initially mistook a natural deposit on the rock 
under the paintings for a primer, although it may not necessarily have been so in 
these southern African instances. Various authors wrote of the apparent durabil- 
ity of some paintings, with the red pigments generally lasting better than the 
white and black ones; this may indicate different media, but it has been noted 
previously that ferric oxides have good staining and lasting qualities. Others 
wrote of the disintegration of the rocks, which damaged the paintings; detailed 
information in this regard would be a study in itself. 

If, as Ellenberger wrote, a 'small image' was first made on a flat stone, some 
of these should be found in future excavations. 


From the above information one can only conclude that there is very little 
reliable information on the paints used by the rock artists, and that the little 
primary and secondary information that there is cannot always be accepted 
entirely without reservation. A close look at the authenticity and sources of 
information reveals that too many writers have accepted uncritically the in- 
formation supplied by others, that there has been a considerable amount of 
copying, including plagiarism, and that some have added nothing but conjecture 
and confusion, but have sometimes still been quoted uncritically. 


It seems that the media might have been animal fats (sometimes heated, 
and perhaps with a little water added at other times), water, blood, plant sap, 
and honey. Although other media were possibly used, it cannot be proved from 
the above information, nor is there sufficient evidence here to indicate how 
widespread the use of these media had been or how well they would have lasted. 

Earth pigments seem generally to have been used, and there is limited 
evidence regarding the use of plant pigments. 

The techniques apparently included the use of feathers, brushes of feathers 
or hair, sticks, bone spatulae, and crayons, and certainly fingers with which to 
apply paints. Horn containers, grin ding-stones, and 'palettes' were used. 

Experiments with paints have sometimes produced conflicting reports. Only 
properly controlled experiments with various media and pigments will indicate 
which paints might have been practicable and would have endured. Some paints 
would have had to be applied as a paste, others would have allowed fine lines to 
be made. 

Ethnographical information regarding Khoisan pigments and paints may 
provide useful evidence and will be examined in the following sections. Particu- 
lar attention will be paid to the use of the substances suggested above, however 
unlikely some may seem. 


W. Somerville (1799-1802) 

In the north-western Cape, near the Gariep River 'none of the Bushmen hereabouts are at 
all acquainted with drawing. When it is practised the younger people are the artists . . . their 
black is charcoal — Red, Iron ore — and White they collect from the dry excrement of water 
fowl' (p. 189). 

J. Barrow (1806) 

The Bushmen used 'charcoal, pipe clay and the different ochres' for making rock paintings 
(p. 193). 

W. J. Burchell (1822-4) 

A Kora man at Klaarwater wore a kaross 'which together with his whole body, were so 
covered with red ochre and grease that the part of my waggon against which he leaned was 
painted, or rather soiled, with a red stain which was found not easy to be extracted' (1: 490). 

T. Baines (1842-53) 

He assumed that Bushmen had made the paintings at Baviaans River: 'Their pigments 
appeared to consist of red, yellow and white earths and charcoal, mixed, as an old Hottentot 
informed me, with fat which, indinated by the scorching sun, rendered them indelible; and laid 
on . . . with feathers of different sizes' (p. 116). Elsewhere he noted that Andries, a Hottentot, 
had 'seen the Bushman artists at their work; they mix red, yellow and white clay or charcoal 
and a black stone finely powdered, with fat and with pencils formed of variously sized feathers 
imitate ... the various animals of the country.' 

T. Hahn (1879) 

'All' the Bushmen in southern South West Africa were still painting on rocks; old men and 
women taught the children and they painted for pleasure; it was called //hai. (He gives 
explanations for the painted signs or designs and mentions various sites with paintings, but does 
not say whether these paintings were the ones that these Bushmen had been making.) At 


Ihorab, about '30 English miles' south of the mission station, Bethanien, Bushmen were still 
painting. Coal, yellow marl, torob or fatty red stone ('Rothelstein') and lime were used and, to 
make the paints more durable, they mixed these with fat, honey and gum arabic, but the 
proportions were not known. 

T. Hahn (1881) 

'. . .the Khoikhoi women on certain occasions anoint themselves with red ochre, and also 
for the purpose of worship make marks with red ochre {torob) on certain sacred stones and 
cairns.' Hahn suggested that 'the painting of the sacred stones with red ochre was merely an act 
to replace the cruel offering of human blood by a simple, symbolical ceremony' (p. 140). 

D. R. Kannemeyer (1890) 

For 'Bushman' paintings 'the "querrin", or pigment was formed of charcoal and differently 
coloured ochres and clays, and mixed with '"tzuin", the marrow of the '"tghaa" or eland. 
Black, red, white blue, pink and yellow were the prevailing colours used . . . succeeding 
generations painted a fresh layer over them. . .'. (Kannemeyer describes the paintings but does 
not authenticate this information.) 

J. T. Bent (1892) 

'The rock is literally covered with these drawings in colours of red, yellow, and black, 
which had evidently eaten into the granite, so that the figures are preserved to us.' Bent called 
the Rhodesian paintings 'Bushman drawings' (p. 292). 

R. P. Impey (1896) 

He described paintings (including a life-size figure of an ox) along a tributary of the Buffalo 
River in 'Mooirosis' country: 'The pigment or paint used, I believe to be, for black, charcoal; 
for white, chalk or white clay, for all the other shades of light yellow to dark reddish-brown, a 
substance found in nodules of stone in which, on being broken open, is found a small cavity 
containing some kind of oxide of iron in an extremely fine powder, of all shades. . . . These 
substances, when mixed with fat, give a good standing paint not easily obliterated by rain.' 

T. Mum (1896) 

At a meeting of the South African Philosophical Society in 1892, Muir asked if anyone had 
studied the question of pigments used by the Bushmen. He proposed that the subject of 
cataloguing and preservation of the paintings be remitted to Council. 

W. A. Squire (1905) 

'The methods by which the rude artist achieved his object were obviously simple. Coloured 
earth, pounded stones, charcoal, blood, mineralised clay with bird fat constituted the pigments 
in the little hollows worn in the flat stone which was the primitive palette.' 

G. W. Stow (1905) 

(Stow died in 1882; the editor of his manuscript added later information.) 

In mentioning the Bushman artist shot in the Witteberg Reserve for horse theft, who had 
ten small horn pots hanging from his belt, each of which contained a different coloured paint, 
Stow did not give any further information on the paints (p. 230). 

The brother of a Bushman 'chief was the painter of the family, 'and in 1869 still carried 
two or three of his horn paint-pots swung at his belt' (p. 200). 

The rock of a cave 'near the southern border of Basutoland' with a painting depicting an 
attack of a commando on Bushmen, 'is a soft, friable sandstone, and a certain amount of 
disintegration has taken place' (pp. 25-26). 

F. von Luschaw (1908) 

The Bushmen always used indigenous earth pigments which they ground with fat. 

S. S. Dornan (1909) (see also Dornan 1917, 1925) 

The paintings in Basutoland were mainly brown and black, with occasionally blue and 
yellow. Most were made 'within the last 70 years, many 50 years'. 'Every little clan seems to 


have had its painter.' Basuto boys 'smear them with red clay'. 'A chase of eland by horsemen 
could not be older than 1820 when horses came to the Basuto.' 

H. Balfour (in Tongue 1909) 

The colours were ochres, carbon, blood, zinc oxide, etc. mixed with fat or marrow-oil. 
Brushes were feathers and specially prepared tendons. Painters were particular individuals in a 
(Bushman) tribe 'we are told'. 

E. & D. Bleek (in Tongue 1909) 

The colours for the rock paintings 'are said to have been mixed with animal fat. The exact 
manner has apparently never been disclosed by the Bushmen.' 

O. Moszeik (1910) 

He discussed weathering of rock paintings and changes in 15 years, e.g. a picture that had 
been 'perfect' in 1896, had almost gone by 1908 (pp. 2-4). People who had been on farms in the 
north-eastern parts of the Colony for three generations, said that the paintings had changed 
very little, if at all (p. 24). There were no paintings in Bushmanland, perhaps because of the 
shortage of plants that supplied the painters with the colours (quoting Scully) (p. 8). 

The Bushman artist probably had palette, grinding-stone, and crayon, brush and paints of 
different kinds. He cites Dunn (p. 29). In an excavation in a 'Bushman' cave, Moszeik found a 
crayon of 'hard stone', 15,5 cm long, 'square', and as thick as a thumb; at one end the edges 
had been worn down to a rounded end, but the other end was unchanged. A triangular slab of 
sandstone from the same place, double the size of a hand, had a light, fairly evenly worked 
depression in the middle; it was 'fairly certain' that it had served for grinding the pigments as it 
was too small and fragile for other purposes. An old farmer ('Boer') who saw painters, had told 
him that the 'indigenous artists' trimmed bone splinters with sharp stones to thin, pliable 
spatulae with which they applied the paint (p. 29). 

The colours were kept in small horns on a belt (from Stow 1905?). 

He once discovered in a cave 'almost 1 to 2 feet' below the surface, nine different 
earth pigments among the stone tools. The colours (in the paintings) occurred in the order: 
red, white, brown, yellow, black, blue, grey, violet and, possibly, green. He had not seen 
the last rare colour; it could have been another pigment changed by atmosphere. Moszeik 
mentioned that Scully said the pigments came from plants and that others suggested this too. 
The fruits and roots of Rubia tinctoria produce a red paint, according to the 'natives'. 
It is widely distributed in the Cape. Bent had suggested blood as a main ingredient for red 
paint (reference not given) (p. 30). He quotes Impey (1893) on paints (the correct date is 
1896 herein). 

Various 'natives' had said that the Bushmen used the pitch-black excrement of dassies for 
paint (p. 30). 

A chemist made tests on scrapings from badly preserved paintings from various sites. It 
was found that, apart from black, all the other pigments were earth pigments. Red and brown 
were 'Bolus' (coloured clay containing iron oxides) and haematite; yellow was 'iron ochre'; 
white was zinc oxide; black was charcoal or 'glansruss'. Blue gave no satisfactory result, only 
iron and silica that probably came from the rock. He believed that this proved that at least in 
those areas the Bushmen generally used only inorganic pigments common all over South 
Africa. Instances in the literature regarding blue paintings are mentioned. 

In the purest form the many shades of red, yellow and brown occur as a fine powder in 
small hollows in the sandstone. The pigments were finely ground with a stone on a stone slab, 
and mixed with bone marrow of game animals; according to Hahn, gum was added as well 
(p. 31). Red lasts longer than white. Black does not last long either (p. 32). 

Moszeik made the following experiments: he collected earth pigments that were finely 
ground and mixed with sheep marrow or water to a thin 'gruel'. A sandstone slab was painted 
with each paint, dried, and left in running water for 3 weeks. The paint with fat in it was not 
noticeably affected and only the white had washed off, while of the paints made with water 
almost no traces were left. This proved that the paint used by the Bushmen could not have 
been anything but oil paint (p. 33). He mentions Peringuey's (1910, herein) comparison 
over the years of paintings copied in the early nineteenth century and again early this century 
(p. 33). 


L. Peringuey (1910) 

At a meeting of the Royal Society of South Africa, he showed some copies of 'Bushman' 
paintings published in colour in 1838 (by Sir James Alexander, from a copy by Maj. C. C. 
Michell); they were again traced in 1872 (by Schunke-Holloway) and again in 1907 (by 
M. Wilman). The colour of the originals had not faded. (See Willcox 1959 herein.) 

W. E. Stanford (1910) 

'Silayi', who lived among the Bushmen in the Drakensberg in about 1850 (but was not 
himself a Bushman), said material for painting their caves was 'taken out of the ground'. 'Some 
kinds Were prepared at the fire. They could paint very well.' The brushes were 'hairs taken out 
of the tail or mane of a gnu', tied together and fastened on a thin reed. 

A. D. Whyte (1910) 

(In 1910 the Philosophical Society of Natal enlisted the aid of the Natal police in finding 
and recording rock paintings. Two troopers, J. A. Hill and A. D. Whyte, were particularly 
conscientious. The latter's report expressed concern at the rapid fading and exfoliation of 
paintings (84 were removed to the Natal Museum).) Whyte found pieces of a red paint that was 
'a greasy substance interleaved with yellow sandstone, and when exposed to the air hardens 
very quickly. After mixing some with a little water I tried it on a rock, leaving it to dry 
thoroughly.' It was impossible to rub off. He thought that sharpened splinters of bone that he 
found might have been used to make the outlines of the figures. 

F. Christol (1911) 

The colours for the rock paintings were brown-red, black, white, and yellow pigments; soot 
and burnt bone could have been used for black; others were earth pigments abundant in the 
country. The earth pigments were mixed with the juice of certain plants, one of which was 
Gomphocappus revolutox, an asclepiad called 'Motsuku oa Baroa'. (See also Peringuey 1913, 
1914; How 1962, herein.) Brushes were made of feathers. Christol does not claim here to have 
seen painters, but How (1962) wrote that he 'arrived in Basutoland whilst a few Bushmen were 
still painting in the vicinity of his mission station'. 

W. C. Scully (1911) 

In Bushmanland 'the Bushmen have left no record in the shape of paintings on the rocks, 
which are so common in other parts. This may perhaps be accounted for by the porous nature 
of many of the low krantzes in which the caves they occupied are situated. It may be, however, 
that the plants from which their pigments were obtained, do not grow in this arid region' 
(pp. 15-16). 

L. Currle (1913) 

A farmer gave the information that the Namaqualand Bushwomen painted their faces with 
pigments and fat (see Data in Bushman section); one pigment was a fine red powder, ajous, 
from a mushroom. 'Preferably ostrich fat is used by them for painting on rocks with this ajous 
powder, as this special fat is said to cause the paint to become lasting and hard, imparting with 
age a dark brownish colour similar to enamel.' 

South African Museum Correspondence 1913-19 

Wood to L. Peringuey 28 April 1913 

He sent a cutting from the Daily Despatch, East London, enquiring about Bushman paint, 
and said the old Boers had said that the Bushman's paint was as a rule merely the ochreous 
powder in the nodules; 'mixed with animal fat it made a good adhesive paste. The old Boers 
used to paint their names on their waggons with the same stuff — ochre and fat.' 

L. Peringuey to Daily Despatch 18 May 1913 

He mentions a letter dated 21 April 1913 in the paper from a reader, A.W.H.' of 
Dordrecht (see Peringuey-Hey 1913-14 correspondence and Hey (1954) herein): The writer 


quotes some old Tembus for the assertion that the materials used by the Bushmen in their part 
of the country, i.e. the northern portion of the Glen Grey division, were wild honey and the 
clayey stone found in many of the mountain river beds.' Peringuey quotes the letter: 'Upon 
choosing a site for his work, the artist, after tracing the outline of the figure intended, applied 
the honey to the rock, and then using the coloured stone, as we now use a crayon, completed 
his picture.' Peringuey goes on to say: 'There is only one woman alive who could, if she would, 
tell us of the modus operandi. She is the relic of the last Bushman painter known to have 
inhabited Tsolo. In spite of my requests to that effect, no information has been obtained from 
her. ... It is generally accepted that fat was the medium utilised for mixing with red or yellow 
ochre, white clay or charcoal. The Basutos, however, give the name of 'Bushman-paint-flower' 
to an Asclepiad, the milky juice of which is reputed to have been used in the preparation of the 
paint. It must be remembered that both honey or caoutchouc would scale off more readily after 
a short time than a fatty substance sterilised by the oxide of iron which ochre really is and 
thereby made more lasting. ... An analysis of the red material of some of our paintings at the 
Museum has shown that oxide of iron and not blood was utilised for the red paint. But we have 
also a Bushman pot filled with specular iron which may or may not have been utilised, either 
for daubing the face or for paint.' He dismisses the use of honey for daubing the face or for 
paint. He and an artist examined a very large panel of paintings and found that 'the outline of 
several is graved as well and this style will be found more common than one imagines'. The 
artist had suggested that a brush had been used, Peringuey suggested a stick flattened at one 
end, but not a crayon. Proof of facial decoration was 'on a round flat stone' (perhaps the 
Coldstream 'burial stone', SAM-AA6008, see Fig. 21 herein and Rudner (1971)). He suggests 
that palettes were used for face or body decoration. His son had brought from a midden on the 
Cape Flats 'a bivalve sea-shell which had also served as a palette as shown by the rusty red 
paint still adhering to its hollow cavity'. 

L. Peringuey to Col. Stanford, eastern Cape, 4 June 1913 

He asks that an old woman at Tsolo be interviewed regarding paints. Stanford refers the 
matter to M. Apthorp, Department of Native Affairs, who informs Peringuey (11 June 1913) 
that the Department is trying to contact her as well as another native. 

M. Apthorp, Pretoria, to Peringuey 14 July 1913 

T regret to say that both Mamxabele, the old woman, and the native mentioned in the 
communication are dead. The magistrate of Tsolo, however, got into communication with her 
son and the former has furnished the following report.' 

'Her son, Lindiso, states that he was told by his mother during her lifetime that white, red 
and yellow clay and charcoal made from the wood of the "Kafferboom" tree were mixed with 
water and the fat of the bushbuck or other animal. The pigment was then applied to the rocks, 
etc. with a piece of grass which was sometimes split to make it resemble a brush. Poponi, a 
relative of Lindiso's, corroborates him and says that he remembers, on one occasion, seeing 
Mamxabele's husband mixing and applying some paint.' 

Peringuey to A. W. Hey, Dordrecht, 6 July 1913 

'A few years back I asked one of our assistants to copy anew and examine some Bush 
paintings that had been copied in 1824 or 1826 and published in chromolithography. On 
comparing her tracings and colouring with the latter it was found that the latter was exactly 
alike. Thus 85 years had made no difference.' (See also Peringuey 1909: Willcox 1959; 
Rudner & Rudner 1970 herein.) Peringuey added that the eland is the only antelope with 
fat and that the pictures were often first cut into the stone, then painted, particularly 
the eland. 

Peringuey to A. W. Hey 6 January 1914 

T am much obliged ... for the specimens of (colouring) stones which you found in different 
caves. ... White: the stone sent is a porous sandstone or tuff from a volcanic rock. I have 
heard of a lump of possibly the same stuff having been found buried one foot under ashes in a 
shelter in the Ceres District, where nearly all the drawings were executed in white. The yellow: 
the specimen is a rotten dolerite. The red is a ferruginous shale, from the Burghersdorp beds. 
You thus have the three pigments which plus charcoal are the colours used in your parts. . . .' 


J. Muller to Peringuey 24 January 1914 

J. Muller, the Assistant Government Analyst at the Government Chemical Laboratory in 
Cape Town, submitted to Peringuey an 'analysis of a certain native paint adhering to a slab of 
slate and also pieces of haematite'. The slab of slate (No. 33) had a red coating of iron oxide, 
thicker in patches. 'Some of the paint was removed and carefully examined for the presence of 
an oil or resin with the result that although a fairly considerable proportion of organic matter 
was found to be present, it is quite impossible to determine its exact origin." The mineral pieces 
proved to be crystalline haematite. 'When finely ground in a mortar gives a dark somewhat 
reddish powder but not nearly so red as when a vegetable or animal oil is used in the crushing. 
Smears of this were applied to different bits of porcelain and stope and, although not identical 
in shade and colour, they simulate closely the colouring on the slab. It seems highly probable 
that some crushed form of the mineral has been used together with some fat or oil and applied 
to the slab. The fat or oil would through time oxidize and by constant use of the slab be 
gradually removed, leaving so little of the final product that identification after all these ages 
becomes impossible. I return herewith the Slab No. 33. Certain streaks on the opposite side 
have been made in the laboratory here from the dry, powdered haematite, and together with 
the oil the difference being quite marked.' 

Peringuey to C. R. de Laporte, Sabi Game Reserve, 16 September 1914 

He asks for a sample of elandsboontjie root, alleged to have been used as a pigment for 
'Bushman' paintings; he also wants leaves and a flower for identification. 

De Laporte to Peringuey 17 October 1914 

He says the plant grows 'all over' and in most parts of the Cape Colony, and in the Sabie 
Reserve 'where the Bushman paintings are'; he had not found paintings 'in the Low Country 
proper where it does not grow'. T made experiments with red iron ore, haematite, limonite, 
etc. but the solution did not penetrate well and washed off, but with a strong solution, or rather 
infusion, of the Elandsboontjie Root I imitated the paintings on granite . . . and although 
appearing rather faint at first, the colour grows a deeper dull red and better defined as time 
goes on and does not wash off. This may ... be attributed to the tannic acid contained in the 
Elandsboontjie Root.' 

Peringuey to De Laporte 10 November 1914 

T find the Elandsbontjes is called Elephantorrhiza burchelli and it is possible that with its 
help in solution, or mixed with the iron ore, the paint becomes more firmly, set. But I have 
sworn evidence that the pigment used in the Transkei was red or yellow ochre mixed with fat. I 
have reproduced the same paint with specular iron mixed with fat. On the other hand, the 
milky juice of an Asclepiad may have been used for the mixture, because the Basuto call this 
plant the Bushman's paint plant.' 

W. B. Magennis, Cape Town, to Peringuey 14 March 1915 

He sent a sample of red pigment to the museum, believed to be that used by Bushman 
painters. 'This red pigment was handed me by Mr Pocock who stated that he had received it 
from Mr J. D. Nel of Vondeling in the Clanwilliam district . . . had come upon it near an old 
Bushman encampment on his farm. Mr Pocock . . . mixed some with fat and rubbed it on 
stones and its tenacity is beyond question. ... It is thought that this is the pigment used in 
Bushman paintings.' 

J. G. M. Melle, Rhodesia, to Peringuey 24 January 1916 

'People say these rock paintings were made by native Mashonas. The paint consists of red 
haematite mixed with the milky crudation of some bush and applied with a feather or a portion 
of the so-called Kaffir-boom plant teazed out.' 

C. J. van Zyl, Carnarvon, to Peringuey 4 April 1919 

He was sending a sample of 'paint' for analysis. T was digging a furrow for irrigation works 
and about two feet from the surface I discovered this paint in an ostrich egg — it was close to an 
ancient kraal of Bushmen.' 


Peringuey to Van Zyl 10 April 1919 

The sample was specular iron, wrote Peringuey. 'This is now the third time that this 
product generally found in small lumps on quartz, or obtained from micaceous schists pounded 
fine by man's agency, is connected with the Hottentot or Bush culture. At Port Nolloth a clay 
pot was found with a good deal of it in it; another one from the Zuurberg is half filled with it 
[Peringuey described it (1911) and later Schofield (1948) as Zuurberg, but Goodwin (pers. 
comm.) maintained that it was the Frazerburg pot, SAM-AA5344, see also Caches of pigment 
in the archaeological section] and now there is your addition. I found that if mixed with fat it 
gives the red colour of the Bush paintings, and it was, therefore, used for painting both their 
body, and the rocks when inspiration took them.' 

N. Roberts (1916) 

'In many parts of Natal and the Cape Province a round stone which contains a nucleus of 
ochre is found in the vicinity of Bushman caves, and this is popularly supposed to have 
provided these pigmy artists with at least one colour. This theory, however, has been 
challenged by the magistrate of Polela, who reported to the Department of Justice as follows: 
"The paints used by the Bushmen are a lost secret with the exception of dark red, which I have 
found in two places. The paint is a greasy substance interleaved with yellow sandstone, and 
when exposed to the air hardens very quickly. . . . The fine, rather sandy, substance often 
found inside round stones in the bed of the rivers, and so often asserted by many people to be 
the real Bushman paint, is no such thing, although the same colour can be obtained, for this 
reason — that, however many coats be applied, and no matter how long it be left to dry, it can 
be immediately rubbed off." [A footnote here reads, "Vide Pretoria News, February 13th 
1913".] The natives of the Mahabene [mountain] confidently assert that the white paint of the 
Bushman was obtained from the milky kernel of the Stamvruchte, Chrysophyllum magalismon- 
tanum, Sond., and this appears to agree with the testimony of a native who traces his descent 
from the Bushmen in Natal, who stated that the paints of his forefathers were of vegetable 
origin. These native theories, however, are wanting in confirmation. During a visit to the 
Makabene I had the good fortune to unearth a store of Bushman paints in the course of 
excavating one of the caves . . . among the specimens . . . there are several which bear 
unmistakable evidence of having been carefully scraped, apparently for the purpose of 
obtaining a fine powder. The material in most cases is of low specific gravity and is brick-like in 
texture, as though the original ingredients had been finely compounded and then artificially 
dried by heat. When paint was required, a quantity of this fine powder was mixed with (raw?) 
fat or other medium, and stored in little pots ready for use.' He refers to Stow (1905: 230). (See 
also Willcox 1956.) 

S. S. Dornan (1917) (see also Dornan 1909, 1925) 

'The Masarwas of the Sansokwe River still continue to paint, according to their own 
statements to me. There were at least quite lately three painters amongst this branch of the 
tribe. . . . They use red, blue or brown paints, made of clay mixed with fat. Sometimes they 
mix the clay with fat, and then allow it to dry like a stick of chalk. They first drew the outline 
with a burnt stick, and then filled it in with the paints sometimes laid on dry, but more usually 
moistened with water, or saliva, with a small brush made of ostrich feathers. . . . My 
informant, who had seen some of them at work, said it took about six hours to complete a set 
of pictures.' On enquiring he was told that some of the paintings he saw were 'not so very old', 
'but I afterwards discovered this was rather an elastic way of indicating their age on the part of 
my informants'. 

G. M. Theal (1919) 

Bushmen were the painters; 'the tints were made with different kinds of ochres having 
considerable capability of withstanding the decay of time, and they were mixed with grease' 
(p. 64). 

S. S. Dornan (1925) (see also Dornan 1909, 1917) 

There were Bushmen of the Sansokwe River (Botswana?) who still painted (p. 182). 'The 
colours used by the Bushman artists are brown, red, yellow, blue and sometimes white. 
Haematite was used to produce the brown or reddish brown colour, and blue and white clay for 


the yellow and white. These were ground up fine with stones and mixed with boiling fat. They 
were allowed to cool. This produced a crayon, as it is called, but liquid paint applied warm to 
the surface was also employed. One method of painting witnessed by the writer was as follows: 
the artist, a half-bred Bushman, first took a pebble and rubbed the surface of a granite boulder 
on which he was going to paint as smooth as he could, and wiped away all the dust carefully. 
Then he took a burnt stick and drew the outline of the figure, in this case a zebra. Next he took 
his lump of dry paint, his crayon in fact, and rubbed it over the figure, roughly filling in the 
outline. Then he brushed away all the dust and then he took a small feather brush, some liquid 
paint which he had heated in a small, hollow pebble, and laid this carefully on the figure, and 
the painting was complete. He painted a zebra, a tortoise, a porcupine and some guinea-fowl, 
and it took him the best part of three hours to complete the set df pictures . . . the figures . . . 
were only about three inches high . . . and he stopped to smoke more than once' (pp. 188-189). 

B. Huss & Br. Otto (1925) 

(This paper is an early attempt to analyse periods in the rock art, motivation, etc.) 
Some paintings at the Kei River (designs, according to the illustration) were done in 
charcoal which came off easily, 'so we conclude that no medium for fixation was used'. Other 
designs, with charcoal as pigment, were proof against rubbing but soluble on the application of 
a drop of water. 'We were able to discover in this way that, instead of pure water, a solution of 
some gum substance in water had been applied with the charcoal. In some cases the 
down-flowing water used in the experiment was of a greenish colour, indicating that the sap of 
the aloe tree had been used. . . .' Also suggested was the gum of the 'mimosa tree'. But then 
they say that 'the technique was always that of rubbing with a hard piece of charcoal; it was 
drawing, not painting'. White designs were drawn with 'a hard piece of kaolin'. They suggest 
that crayons were rolled from a mixture of gum and water and soot or kaolin. They conclude 
that yellow and red ochre were mixed with water to form paints, that feathers were used to 
apply the paints and, later, brushes of animal hair. 

I. Schapera (1925) (see also Schapera 1930) 

(This paper has been quoted by others, but as is shown here by the references inserted by 
the present author, the information is not original; the original author did not include 

Bushmen were the painters. The colours 'included red, white, brown, yellow, black, blue, 
violet and grey; green is seen occasionally, but seems to be due to the chemical alteration of 
other colours on the rock surface' (see Moszeik 1910). 'The sources . . . have been much 
disputed. Some say they were purely vegetable in origin, and several plants have been indicated 
as providing specific colours — red, for example, is said to have been derived from the bulbs and 
roots of Rubia tinctoricC (see Moszeik 1910). According to others, red came from 'the small 
round stones containing a nucleus of ochre' (see e.g. Roberts 1916). Schapera refers to 
experiments by Moszeik (the name is mentioned but not the year, i.e. 1910) who subjected 
samples from paintings to a chemical analysis, which showed that all the colours (except black 
from charcoal) were derived from mineral ores, e.g. red and brown from haematite, yellow 
from iron pyrites, white from zinc oxide. The powdered materials were 'artificially dried by 
heat, leaving a sort of brick of finely compounded powder (see Roberts 1916), which was 
carried about in a small tube of antelope horn attached to the girdle (see Stow 1905). When 
paint was required, a quantity of this fine powder was presumably scraped from one of the 
"bricks" (see Roberts 1916) and mixed with bone marrow or the fat of certain animals. The 
outline of the design was first drawn with a burned stick (see Dornan 1925) . . . and the paint 
was then laid on, sometimes dry, like a sort of crayon (see Dornan 1925), but generally 
moistened with water or saliva (see Dornan 1917) and smeared on with a brush made of 
feathers (various authors) or of specially prepared tendons' (see Balfour in Tongue 1909). 

M. Burkitt (1928) 

(Burkitt did not give references for the information below — he used information from 
others, notably from A. J. H. Goodwin (pers. comm.).) 

The colours were mostly derived from naturally occurring mineral oxides and iron 
carbonates which give, when powdered, various shades of red and yellow. Charcoal seems to 
have been employed but is more fugitive; white might have been kaolin which occurs in such 


regions as the weathered product of felspar', elsewhere it might have been wood ash or 
Euphorbia latex; the blue for 'one or two' blue paintings might have been from powdered 
phosphatic nodules found in shales. The media, which seem to have been waterproof, might 
have been gum, a vegetable product, or animal fat. Brother Otto of Marionhill suggested 
Euphorbia latex which 'forms a sort of waterproof skin' (p. 113). 

H. B. Maufe (1929) 

He found pieces of iron oxide in a cave on Domboshawa Hill (in then Rhodesia); the 
colours were red, brown and yellow. Red was haematite, anhydrous ferric oxide; 'yellowish 
brown rust red or orange' came from hydrated iron oxide commonly known as limonite; dark 
claret was probably martite; black might have been magnetite. Pieces of haematite and limonite 
were found in a painted granite cave in Ruchera Hill. 

J. Stevenson-Hamilton (1929) 

Rock paintings in caves between the Sabi and Crocodile rivers were executed in a durable 
red pigment 'which was possibly, either wholly or in part, obtained from the root of the 
elandsboontjie (Elephantorrhiza burchelli), a small plant which is found growing in the vicinity 
of caves. A solution of this plant, tested upon fragments of rock, leaves a dark stain difficult of 
removal, and similar in shade to the Bushman paintings.' (Compare Peringuey-De Laporte 
1914 correspondence herein.) 

D. F. Bleek (in Bleek & Stow 1930) 

'The materials seem to have been ochres and clays found locally. The red and brown 
pigments were haematite, yellow is an ochre, white is zinc oxide, black is charcoal. Blue is 
probably procured from phosphatic nodules which occur in the shales in some places. The 
pigments, after being ground, must have been mixed with some medium' (p. xii). Weathering 
of rock and deterioration of paintings are discussed (p. xiv). 

V. Lebzelter (1930) 

There were various stages in painting, from the use of 'crayons' of charcoal to mixing 
pigments with aloe and acacia gum, using feathers and brushes of animal hair. Between 1912 
and 1926 weathering was apparent in some pictures that were not weatherproof. In the vicinity 
of 'Umzinkulu' a 75-year-old Scottish farmer, who had known Bushmen as a boy, told that the 
Bushmen had mixed the juice of a bulb with pigments for a durable paint. 

I. Schapera (1930) (see also Schapera 1925) 

The colours for rock paintings 'were derived chiefly from mineral ores — red and brown 
from haematite, yellow from iron pyrites, white from zinc oxide, while black was obtained from 
burned wood'. The powdered mineral ores were mixed with bone-marrow or animal fat. 'The 
outline of the design was first drawn with a burned stick and the paint, after being moistened 
with water or saliva, was then smeared on by means of a feather brush or specially prepared 
tendons' (p. 210). (As in Schapera 1925 references not given; see Balfour in Tongue 1909; 
Dornan 1917, 1925.) 

E. J. Dunn (1931) 

Bushmen made the rock paintings. 'As to the pigments used, examples in my collection 
show that red haematite, yellow from oxide of iron, grey from shaly rocks, white from clays and 
black from charcoal and lamp black obtained by burning certain plants were used. Those 
obtained from minerals were all fast colours and not liable to fade with time' (pp. 43-44, 
pi. 25). 

The legend for his plate 10 mentions two pestles for grinding pigments (p. 67). 

'The only pigments used by the Bushmen were haematite, ochres, natural earths, charcoal 
and lamp black. It is quite possible that some of the minerals were burnt before use, for tints 
are used that are not commonly found in the natural state. The chief colours used were 
haematite for red, charcoal and lamp black for black, white clay for white, yellow shales for 
yellow, and various other shales for grey and other tints. Red . . . was the colour most 
commonly used. The principal source of haematite in Bushmanland was the extensively 


excavated quarry at Nauta, between Prieska and Steerman's Pits. It was from here that the 
Bushmen and other natives for hundreds of miles around obtained their supplies of specular 
iron ore, which becomes red when burnt. In the Stormberg red haematite occurred in a bed of 
conglomerate just above the chief coal seam. Although many of the colours used are known, 
the medium with which they were mixed to make them adhere to the rock surfaces and resist 
the weather is not known. Formerly blood was thought to be the medium, but as many plants in 
South Africa yield latex and resin, the probability is that the sap of some such plant was used 
for the purpose. . . . Pestles of hard stone were used for grinding the harder of the pigments to 
powder, and in some cases the flat surface of an outcrop of rock was used for the purpose. I 
came across such rocks stained by the process. The colours were mixed on small palettes of 
stone (pi. 25) which the artist carried with him' (p. 110). (See also Dunn 1881 for similar 
information not repeated herein.) 

A. Y. Mason (1933) 

'Most of the paintings at Cathkin Peak were executed by means of a brush of some kind. No 
examples of crayon work were found. In the earlier stages we see evidence that the brush was a 
thick, coarse one; the pigment is thickly smeared and the beads decorating the figures of Stage 
III in the Inkosizana Valley are represented by thick blobs of paint. Later a very fine, soft brush 
was used. . . . Some of the most recent degenerate daubs indicate that the pigment was 
smeared on with anything that happened to be at hand, the twig of a tree, a strip of raw hide 
and even with the fingers.' 'Local tradition' claims that eland fat was used for mixing the 
pigment. Pigments found were white, yellowish white (which might have been coloured by a 
'diluent such as animal fat'), red, dark red, yellow, yellow-brown, brown, and orange. In Buy's 
Cave were 'quite soft' red ochre, ochreous yellow, and burnt bone which could have been used 
for white. On a farm near Arthur's Seat was a so-called 'Bushman paint pot', a pecked-out 
cavity in a slab of sandstone that contained traces of dark red and purplish black pigment. 

L. H. Wells (1933) 

Two informants, a middle-aged black man and an elderly black headman, commented on 
paintings in the Cathkin Park area: 'Neither . . . entertained any doubt that the Bushmen were 
the cave artists. The former stated that the pigments used were coloured minerals ground up 
and mixed with animal fats.' 

B. Segal (1935) 

He reported on 'samples of rock and extracted powder from pockets therein . . . from the 
vicinity of paintings in caves on the farm Glenelg in Steynsburg district'. 

'The material could be considered as an earthy form of limonite. . . . When heated 
carefully to varying temperatures and with controlled amounts of air, the combined water was 
driven off and products of different colours were obtained, varying from the original yellow to 
yellowish reds, brownish reds, dark reds and finally black.' Owing to the low percentage of 
hydrated iron oxide in the original, the red pigments produced were dull and their range was 
limited. He found that by calcining moist siderite (carbonate of iron), the colours obtained 
varied from yellowish red, deep red, dark purple, to dull brown. The calcined original material 
was ground and mixed with tallow and with water. After 10 months' exposure to 'the ordinary 
prevailing atmospheric conditions the colours remained unaffected'. 

A note by E. Mendelssohn, geologist, states that the rock was 'fine-grained argillaceous 
sandstone consisting of about equal amounts of clay and grains of quartz. The clay is lightly 
stained with iron oxides. . . . The concretions . . . mainly of soft, powdery clay (probably 
kaolin) which is stained by hydrated iron oxides.' There were some quartz grains in it. 'The 
constituents of the rock and the concretions are essentially the same', it was merely a question 
of proportions. The origin of the concretions was due to alteration of the original rock by 
surface weathering. 

C. Van Riet Lowe (1945) 

(This paper is a discussion on colours in the rock paintings, with a chart by H. Breuil. but 
is of little value in determining the pigments that were used.) He mentions shades of red, 
orange, and yellow, black, white and a greyish-blue. (He ignores factors such as weathering and 
types of rock surfaces.) 


A. J. H. Goodwin (1946) 

He suggested bird droppings for white pigment. 

W. Battiss (1948) 

'In the ancient eland paintings the white paint has gone a dirty grey, often the dark red 
bodies have gone brown . . . the curiosity is that these old paintings stand out in shallow 
bas-relief! In other words, the paint has preserved the rock throughout the ages while the 
surrounding rock has worn away.' The white paint is in thick lines possessing tactile qualities. 
This ancient white is a wonderfully permanent colour. . . . The red is surely a haematite. . . . 
The early painters surely knew of heating, roasting or calcining pigments to make them darker 
and the medium most commonly added was most probably a very pure animal fat' (pp. 71-72). 
He suggested that charcoal black was used to paint the horns and hoofs and that very fine 
brushes were used. 

This Middle Period maroon is tenacious and cannot be removed even by washing or 
scrubbing, while its accompanying white is nearly as permanent' but the white disappears first. 
He found seven shades of 'yellow ochre' (p. 79). 

'The Bushman colour is put on so thickly that it can be seen in relief and sometimes felt in 
relief. Probably the medium used with the pigment was purified animal fat. The colours are 
earth colours; kaolin, umber, yellow ochre, red ochre and their varieties' (p. 82). He lists and 
discusses the pigments: yellow and red ochres, red haematite, raw sienna, raw umber, vermilion 
('cinnabar', 'a sulphide of mercury' that may turn brown), grey, black (carbon black and fat), 
white, of which there are a number, may be natrolite, bird-droppings, kaolin and fat and a 'thin 
white resinous juice' (pp. 83, 85). 

'We know for certain that the earth pigments of the Bushmen are absolutely permanent, 
but every one of them can be removed if washed with a hard brush. Indeed ... it is possible to 
remove most of the pigment by attempting to clean the paintings with a dry handkerchief!' 
(p. 85). 

'Of the mediums we know next to nothing. My own experience with the Bushmen has 
shown that they use animal fats . . . they may have used eggs as a medium. Everyone has been 
free to suggest mediums, so we hear that the Bushmen used both blood and urine as mediums!' 
(p. 86). T make a shrewd guess that they discovered that both ordinary salt and milk are each 
excellent mediums for holding pigments onto surfaces.' A remarkable property about the 
mediums is that they never caused the paint to crack; Battiss suggests that oil was not used as a 
medium, as all cracking is due to the shrinking of the oil surface as it dries (pp. 86-87). 

L. Adam (1949) 

This reference is included here only because he has been quoted by others. His chapter on 
'Bushman' art contains an assortment of information taken from others as well as inaccuracies 
and is not of any value. 

G. R. Strey, after 1950 

'Hahn had observed fat, honey, and ostrich marrow being used as base for ochre colours'. 
(Publication date not given.) 

C. Van Riet Lowe (1951) 

'In mid-August Professor Van Riet Lowe kindly lectured to the centre on "Prehistoric 
painting materials". Approaching the problem from an objective point of view, Professor Van 
Riet Lowe showed that rock-painters used inorganic colouring materials as a base, and possibly 
urine as a vehicle. Organic or vegetable bases were not known. Hence, greens and blues are 
entirely absent from rock art, the predominant colours being reds, yellows, black and white, in 
varying shades and intermixtures . . . referred to the need for a universal colour scale. . . .' 

V. Ellenberger (1953) 

'An old Basuto woman' told Ellenberger that she had seen three Bushman painters at work 
when she was young: to paint they took a small container with red paint; they dipped their 
brushes in it; those brushes were made with the hair taken from the tail of a wildebeest; later 
they used horse hair; the hairs were stiff and hard; they were tied to a stick with sinews. They 
dipped the brush into the paint in the pot and painted it on to the rock. There were as many 


pots as there were different colours. The paint was mixed with melted fat. To paint they first 
took a flat stone — a small, thin stone disc — and traced a small image of what they wanted to 
depict; then with the paint pot in the hand as well as the small disc, the artist reproduced on a 
large scale on the rock wall that which he had represented on the flat rock (p. 148). 

The old woman was certain that they had not used 'ochre' for their paintings, but she did 
not say what they had used. 

For painting the fine lines the artist needed small, thin sticks, or better, pointed fragments 
of bone or dried and hardened sinews. Ellenberger's footnote reads: an old colonial Boer who 
said that he had seen Bushmen painting, saw them using for brushes fine splinters which they 
detached from larger, hollow bones; they thinned down the points of these with a sharp-edged 
stone; in this way the point became very fine and supple, looking almost like a brush, or, 
rather, a spatula. [This information was taken unacknowledged from Moszeik (1910).] These, 
judging from those we found in the north of Basutoland, could be 10 to 15 cm long (p. 160). 

The artist, even if he had discovered the colouring properties of certain vegetables, seldom 
employed them for decorating his caves, even if the Basuto assure us that the Bushmen 
employed the juice of certain plants such as the Lotononia (khonathi) or the Mosala-souping 
(Lithospermum dreneum) . However, the vegetable ingredients were generally mixed with other 
colouring matters, probably more adhesive on the rock, for example the juice of a bulb called 
U ekhoukhou or the latex of the Euphorbia candelabra. In reality it was mainly from minerals 
that the Bushmen extracted their colours, although we have heard the Basuto insist that the 
little yellow men also used animal blood for paint. The most common colours are red, yellow, 
white, and brown. The red and brown are extracted from haematite, the yellow from iron 
pyrites or limonite, the white from zinc oxide; with antimony we recognized manganese 
bioxide. As for the black, it was provided by burnt wood or soot. The mineral, once collected, 
was ground on a hollow stone with a smaller stone pestle almost 15 cm long. The pigment, once 
ground, was prepared in the mortar by mixing it with animal fat; in that way a paint similar to 
oil paint was obtained (pp. 164-165). Marrow was also used. (Freely translated from the 

A. W. Hey (1954) (see also South African Museum correspondence 1913-19) 

In the years between 1900 and 1913, in the vicinity of the Zwart Kei and White Kei, Great 
Kei, and Stormberg, there were thousands of rock paintings; a finger drawn across the figures 
collected some of the pigment. 'In the caves I got all the colours employed and, after they were 
classified, mostly by the Government Geologist, they went to Dr Peringuey, then at the 
museum in Cape Town.' Yellow was rotten dolerite (several shades), red was ferruginous shale, 
black was charcoal, white was volcanic rock. The paintings were white and yellow, and white 
and red. The medium: 'It was accepted that it was either wild honey or the milk of the 
Euphorbia. My interrogations of very old Bantu living in or adjacent to the Stormberge 
convinced me that honey was mostly used.' The Bushmen did not paint but 'plastered'. 

A. R. Willcox (1956) (see also Willcox 1959, 1971, 1973) 

The pigments are mostly known. Oxides of iron provided red, brown and yellow; white 
came from zinc oxide and perhaps bird droppings, as suggested by Goodwin; one white is 
fugitive; black was from manganese or charcoal; pigments for blue-grey and grey-green are not 
known. Other possible pigments may be from concretions in the cave sandstone in the form of 
powder, known as 'Bushman paint'. Analysis (he refers to Segal 1935) showed them to consist 
of silica, alumina, iron and combined water — an earthy form of limonite or yellow ochre; 
heating produced colours from yellow to yellowish reds, brownish reds, dark reds and black; 
mixing these with tallow and water gave paints of which the colour remained unaffected after 10 
months' exposure to the weather. Others are quoted on possible binding media: fat, plant sap, 
milk, blood, honey, and urine, 'and an analysis done at the University of the Witwatersrand 
shows a high nitrogen content, consistent with urine having been the medium in the sample'. 
Some paints may have had a purely vegetable origin (p. 46) (he refers to Roberts 1916, 
Stevenson-Hamilton 1929, see herein). Regarding the suggestion by Roberts (1916) of the use 
of sap from the 'stamvruchte', Willcox remarked: 'The stamvrugte does not occur in the Berg, 
but a small Euphorbia that does grow there yields a sticky white latex which may well have 
been used as a white or as the medium for other colours.' A painting in the Giant's Castle area, 
which was copied 60 years before, seemed to have deteriorated very slightly. 


T. Johnson (1957) (see also Johnson 1975) 

Brushes might have been bones, quills, bird feathers or bristles. The main pigments in the 
region under study, Clanwilliam, were red, white, yellow, brown and black. These and possible 
sources are discussed. The white, which might have been kaolin or bird droppings, were 'not 
sustaining colours'. Black could have been various carbons such as charcoal, lampblack, etc. 
Other pigments were probably hydrated and anhydrous oxides of iron. He examined various 
media that were suggested by others: the use of hyrax urine is questioned — 'obtaining fresh 
hyrax urine was an insurmountable problem' and he asks why hyrax urine? Other possible 
media were wax resin which could be obtained from certain plants in the area; Euphorbia juice 
was also available; fats; the 'orange or green bile in gall-bladder' was 'readily obtainable by a 
hunting people'. Tempera of the fourteenth and sixteenth century painters consisted of egg 
albumen with water, a non-drying oil and lecithin (present in 'gall-bladder'). 'In thin layers at 
ordinary temperatures albumen becomes insoluble in water'. 

In experiments 'earth ochre' from the area was heated to 100 °C, ground and mixed with 
various media, then applied to stones with a quill and a brush of bristle. Wax resin had to be 
kept heated, had to be applied as a paste or plaster, and fine lines were impossible to apply. 
Marrow fat (not said whether raw or cooked) was more successful with ochre and a black 
pigment, fine lines were difficult, and it was best applied with a finger. Hyrax 'droppings' were 
'melted' (dissolved?) and mixed with ochre but this 'paint' was unsuitable. Mutton fat made a 
thick paint and fine lines were most difficult to make. Juices had to be used in great quantities 
for even small figures, and the results were a 'feeble, light image' or a 'tacky' effect, and fine 
lines were impossible to make. 'Gall-bladder' was mildly successful but 'a large quantity would 
have to be laborously procured and mixed'. Honey was sticky and non-adhesive and washed off 
completely, ants and all. Tempera produced the best results, with fine lines possible (but 
Johnson does not give the exact ingredients, for instance, what was the oil?). (This information 
is also given in Johnson et al. 1959.) 

T. P. Kennan (1959) 

(Contributed by T. B. Kennan.) In 1888 a large cave in Basutoland was covered with 
'Bushman' paintings. The materials used were different coloured stone, mainly red, ground and 
mixed with fat and then rubbed on the rocks; the paint appeared to withstand the rain and 
weather for a great number of years, but many pictures were destroyed by the weathering of 
the rock. 

A. R. Willcox (1959) (see also Willcox 1956, 1971, 1973) 

Willcox notes that the rock paintings at Ezeljacht, between George and Oudtshoorn, are 
still well preserved. They had been copied by Michell and published by Alexander in 1838, and 
again copied by Wilman in 1907. (See Peringuey 1910 herein.) 


A few green paintings were recorded in the Limpopo Valley close to copper mines where 
there were surface outcrops of malachite, possibly the source of the pigment. 

M. W. How (1962) 

Mapote, an old Basuto man, who had painted with the Bushmen in their caves when a 
young man (p. 26) — he had Bushman half-brothers — made some paintings on pieces of rock for 
How. He identified a red pigment as qhang qhang which 'glistened and sparkled, whereas ochre 
is dull'. The Basuto heated the qhang qhang until red hot and ground it for powerful medicine 
(p. 34). The Bushmen subjected it to great heat before grinding and using it (p. 8). The Council 
for Scientific and Industrial Research reported that it appeared to consist of 'haematite Fe 2 3 
(red), mixed hydrated iron oxides, e.g. limonite and goethite (yellow)'. 'Ochre' was bought in 
shops; Mapote sent for some and mixed it with fresh ox blood — he had asked for fresh eland 
blood — and a little water. 'The blood must be fresh otherwise it will coagulate and will not mix 
with the pigment or soak into the rock.' He painted an eland, using a new brush for each colour 
(pp. 35, 36, 38). The brushes were made of bird feathers stuck into the ends of tiny reeds 
(p. 33). Mapote thought that the white pigment might have been phepha, a clay used in 
initiation on the bodies of the Basuto (the C.S.I.R. identified it as largely silica, a fine sand with 
some clay material; it had 'limited covering power'). He mixed this with the thick white juice 


from the stem of a plant called motsoko oa Baroa, the motsoko of the Bushmen, 'Asclepia 
gibbet (pp. 35-36). For black, Mapote used charcoal or burnt sticks (p. 37). He said the colours 
were sun-proof but not rain-proof, that was why the Bushmen preferred caves. His paintings 
that were kept indoors were unaltered after 30 years, those that were outdoors had almost 
completely weathered away (p. 39). 

An artist, Masitise, painted a battle scene on the wall of a house under the verandah in 
1932. (The paints are not mentioned, nor is evidence given that he had seen Bushmen 

How speculated on other possible pigments and media: the sticky white juice of rete la 
'ntja, possibly Eulophia hians, 'whilst sehloko and sehamela poli, Parapodium costatum also 
contain milky fluids which may have been used as fixatives for the white pigment'. 'The brown 
was probably moking (mokilung or shalaoane), motlako or pharohloana. This is a black earth 
used for adorning earthenware pots. Possibly mixing it with blood or other substance it might 
become brown. Keketse provided the yellow. Other earthy pigments which may have been used 
are moloetla, white, lekoetjie, bluish-white, ekama and ebilo, black' (pp. 35-36). 

Qhang qhang was the only pigment mixed with blood, 'which probably accounts for the 
greater permanence of the reddish-brown paintings as compared with other colours' (p. 38). 

How quotes T. B. Kennan's visit to the painted cave that had been occupied by Bushmen 
15 years previous to 1888 (see Kennan 1959 herein), and added that J. M. Orpen had copied 
some of these paintings at Melikane in 1873 (pp. 20, 24). 

W. & S. Steyn (1962) 

The authors state that a variety of painting materials seem to have been used in the rock 
paintings, egg tempera having been one of the most popular according to Johnson et al. (1959). 
In many cases 'ochre' of some kind served as a pigment; when heated, ochre can be made to 
render quite a range of tints. The ochre might have been mixed with animal fats in some cases, 
or with thorn tree resin. Sometimes material such as 'coal' was used as a black pigment. 

E. Denninger (1963, c. 1966a, c. 19666, 1969) 

South Africa was visited on a few occasions to collect minute samples of paints from rock 
paintings for analysis to determine both media and ages (see also Willcox 1971). The method 
consists of chromatographical analysis of albuminous binding media, which could be white of egg, 
milk casein (as calcium casein or calcium distemper), blood and blood serum, animal glue (as 
calcium glue compounds) or vegetable albumin (such as the sap of Euphorbiacea). Denninger 
maintains that fresh albumin contains ten amino acids, which decay at a predetermined rate up to 
1 800 years when the last amino acid has decayed, and that the decomposition of the albumins by 
an intramolecular disintegration is apparently 'only determined by the lapse of time', but 
'continuous humidity causing the growth of bacteria and fungi may dissolve the albuminous 
substances prematurely and destroy the painting' (Denninger c. 1966); 'it may be affected by 
conditions of extreme pressure or by the exclusion of light and air, if these follow different 
time-sequences' (Denninger 1969). The assumption that the general conditions of temperature 
and humidity in South Africa may influence the decomposition of amino acids could be disproved 
by the decomposition curve when applied to rock paintings in the Cape Province, the age of 
which could be determined within certain limits by depictions', e.g. ships, Europeans, etc. 
Sintered layers on paintings acted as protection for the paintings (Denninger 1969). 

The absence of lime in paint samples from South West Africa eliminated protein fixatives 
such as calcium casein or calcium glues as fixing agents; 'egg whites cannot be considered (their 
binding action is not resistant to solution by water to the degree required for the preservation of 
paintings on outdoor sites), the only protein-containing fixative remaining is blood or blood 
serum' (Denninger 1963). 

In another laboratory report Denninger (c. 19666) notes that all rock paintings examined 
in South Africa and South West Africa had 'been painted almost without exception with animal 
blood or blood serum as media'. Some showing no amino acids, 'have either been painted with 
non-albuminous media or they are older than about 2 000 years'. Elsewhere (Denninger 1969) 
he says that smaller amounts of amino acids 'may be due to other factors'; a missing amino acid 
could be due to the 'disintegration process of the macromolecule protein'; 'this disintegration is 
generally independent of temperature and the effect of light and air under normal conditions'; 
the method has been applied to wall whitewashes from German cathedrals. 


In the Khomas Hochland and elsewhere in South West Africa (Denninger 1963) the 
pigments were reddish-brown to light-brown ochres with a strong silica content in the form of 
quartz. The paints contained up to six amino acids and with a dark-brown one 'it is fairly 
certain that it is a painting of ochre fixed with blood and executed approximately within the last 
50 years'. The iron in the blood first darkens in colour and 'after a few centuries' starts to 
become lighter brown. 'Since such iron-brown paintings, which have shown themselves to be 
very old by the absence of amino acids (over 2 000 years) have been found at other sites ... it 
can be concluded that blood was used as a fixative. . . .'At another site, fixatives contained 
three, two, and no amino acids. 'In all samples containing amino acids protein-containing fixing 
agents were used, therefore those without amino acids must have had similar fixatives and were 
therefore over 2 000 years.' 

At Erongo, Gross and Klein Spitzkoppe, South West Africa, charcoal for black, and the 
'brown iron pigments' previously mentioned were used. Very fine quartz particles were used to 
lighten the 'burnt ochre'. In most cases white was pure calcium sulphate (gypsum), also at other 
sites (Denninger 1963). 

'Blue contours' on paintings in Klein Ameib were analysed: copper was absent, so it could 
not be azurite, but may be 'dumortierite'. According to analysis by Dr H. Leverkusen, it may 
be 'artvendsonite'. Black, on top of the encrustation on paintings, was graphite — he suggested 
pencil marks of copyists. 

Fixatives showed the same, or nearly the same, amino acids as in Khomas Hochland. A 
smooth surface on some samples was assumed to be 'rock rabbit' excrement. 

In the Brandberg's White Lady cave (Denninger 1963) the pigments were iron oxides in 
the form of burnt and light ochre, at times with strong silica content; white calcium sulphate in 
the form of gypsum was determined exclusively; black was charcoal. Fixatives contained three, 
two, one or no amino acids. In all Brandberg samples containing amino acids, protein- 
containing fixing agents were detected, therefore those without amino acids must have had 
similar fixatives and were, therefore, over 2 000 years old. 

In the paintings of the south-western Cape (Denninger c. 1966a) the following pigments 
were identified at various sites: reddish-brown quartziferous haematite, quartziferous burnt 
ochre; quartziferous natural burnt ochre; natural burnt ochre with a large amount of silicic acid; 
reddish-brown natural burnt ochre and charcoal black; red iron oxide (probably haematite); 
quartziferous red iron oxide (haematite); brown unburnt ochres with a considerable amount of 
clay applied in a comparatively thin layer; yellow, highly siliceous raw ochre; yellow ochre; dull 
yellow highly quartziferous raw ochre; white coarse-grained gypsum mixed with fine particles of 
quartz; black charcoal. 

'Basing on the chromatographic analysis of the binding media, by which amino acids were 
obtained always in the same forms, it may be concluded that animal blood was the medium of 
the rock paintings examined.' In some cases a binder was not found. In one case only in Natal 
was blood not used (Denninger c. 1966a). 

In paintings in the northern Transvaal. (Denninger c. 1966b), red pigments were 'ferric 
oxides, as haematite and blood stone haematite' with a considerable amount of quartz; burnt 
ochres, quartziferous or clayey. Yellow was from yellow ochres (ferric oxides), and the violet 
pigments were mixed ferric oxides; white was quartziferous gypsum. 

In the Natal Drakensberg (Denninger c. 19666) some white paintings (gypsum) did not 
contain amino acids: they were either older than 2 000 years, or the binder had not contained 
amino acids, or a binder had not been used. Brown and reddish-brown pigments were 
quartziferous ferric oxide ('blood stone haematite') or burnt ochre; white was china clay. (The 
pigment for yellow was not given.) 

In experiments Denninger (c. 1966a) used yellow ochre and red haematite mixed with fresh 
sheep blood (and a little water, according to Willcox (1971)); these paints could be applied 
easily and fine lines were drawn with a bird's feather. 'In the course of six months the layer of 
paint was set to be water-proof, undamaged by water and brushes. After a year, analysis 
indicated ten amino acids. 

A. Friendly (1963) 

(References were not given with the following information.) 

Brushes were tail or mane hairs of wildebeest, pointed bones for fine details; paint-pots 
were horns of small antelope. Pigments were iron and other metallic oxides. He suggests animal 


fat, milk, blood, honey, or urine for media and mentions the Bushman, killed in 1866, who had 
ten horn paint-pots on him (see Stow 1905). 

P. Buys (pers. comm. to J. Rudner 1969) 

An old farmer who grew up with Bushmen in the northern Kalahari, said that they made a 
paste of boiled brains of antelope and 'rooiklip' (red ochre) which was reheated for painting on 

J. & I. Rudner (1970) (see also Rudner & Rudner 1978) 

Various earth pigments and charcoal, etc., and media are discussed. According to others, 
blood was used and has apparently been chemically detected. Reference is made to discoveries 
of powdered iron oxides in archaeological deposits, 'red burials', etc. Some white and also some 
black pigments or paints were fugitive. A painting that seemed to have been made with 
light-green paint was actually yellow over black. Sometimes the pigments, e.g. red ochre, was 
used as a crayon, as indicated by some paintings. Animal fat or marrow was used for body 
paints but the fine lines in some paintings would have required melted fat that had to be kept 
fluid; ostrich fat remains oily. Plant latex and resin have been suggested. Denninger's findings 
are discussed. Grinders for powdering the pigments were found at sites. 

Various methods of applying the paints have been suggested, e.g. brushes of hair, feathers, 
bone spatulae, and sticks with chewed ends. Finely detailed paintings could only have been 
executed with fine brushes of hair or pointed feathers. Some, such as the late, crude paintings 
of the Karoo and elsewhere, were simply executed with a finger dipped in paint. The varying 
lasting qualities of the paints are discussed (pp. 163 ff.). 

H. Pager (1971) 

'The presence of an albuminoid substance in the paint medium . . . as Dr Denninger's 
laboratory tests have shown, occurs almost without exception in South African rock paintings; 
the medium used being animal blood or blood serum' (p. 356). Denninger took paint samples 
from Ndedema Gorge in Natal: 'The examinations have shown that the following pigments had 
been used in the rock paintings of the Drakensberg': black — charcoal; brown and reddish 
brown — burnt ochre mixed with clay or quartz; red and brownish red — iron oxide, sometimes 
with quartz; natural burnt ochre, sometimes with quartz; pink — burnt ochre mixed with quartz; 
yellow and brownish yellow — natural unburnt ochre, sometimes with quartz; white — gypsum 
(calcium sulphate) sometimes with quartz, kaolin. 

Amino acids were found in three of the five samples tested by Denninger — the samples of 
the other two paints were too small to give results (pp. 357-358). 

Some later paintings indicated that the use of a medium for the preparation of paint was 
unknown (p. 360). 

A. R. Willcox (1971) (see also Willcox 1956, 1959, 1973) 

He summarizes Denninger's laboratory reports (see above). 'In almost every case the 
medium was blood or blood serum. . . . Whole blood could not have been used to make white 
paint as the haemoglobin would tint the white, so serum must have been the medium in that 
case. Blood, however, was apparently used with red and other dark pigments, but this would 
start to clot within about ten minutes. The artists, therefore, either worked very quickly or they 
had a method of quick drying the blood and re-constituting it with water as needed.' 

K. Huwiler (1972) 

He questioned the validity of some of the published statements about pigments and media, 
and decided to conduct experiments. Oral tradition proved unreliable. Media should be 
available; 'mix with the powder easily but not duly discolour it; permit the paint to adhere to 
the rock but remain liquid long enough to complete the painting; harden up in a reasonable 
time and be permanent; and the consistency should enable the artist to work vertically and 

The following pigments met all his requirements: charcoal or graphite — black; limestone 
(calcite) — grey; talc — dark grey; quartzite — white; quartzite with mica and calcite — green; 
shale — grey/black; ferruginous shale — dark yellow; phyllite (haematite, sericite, mica quartz) — 
light red; phyllite (with haematite bands) — dark red; sulphur — light yellow; and bird droppings 
and ash. 


Various potential media were mixed with these pigments, applied to slabs of granite, and 
subjected to artificial 'weathering' (washing, heating in the sun, refrigeration, rubbing, scratch- 
ing) as well as to the test of time. 

Negative results were obtained from water, honey, hyrax urine, animal fat, beeswax, and 
bone marrow. 

Animal fat had to be heated, exposure to sun made the painting run, after weeks of drying 
the paint could be rubbed off. Beeswax had to be heated but application was very difficult. 
Bone marrow, heated or unheated, would not mix to a paste. 

'Acceptable' results were obtained from blood; used alone it become blackish and could be 
removed only with hard rubbing or washing; blood with pigment was thicker and could be 
washed off; blood plasma gave approximately the same results; white of egg applied well but it 
came off with hard rubbing or washing; tree latex, e.g. from Ficus rhodesiaca, did not mix well 
but could not be washed off. 

'Good' results were obtained from vegetable albumin, which was difficult to extract (the 
kinds were not stated), and gelatine, which was boiled animal bones and tissue that became 
semi-solid when cooled and had to be reheated. 

'Candelabra sap (Euphorbaceae)' gave the best results. With the exception of charcoal, the 
colours mixed easily, the paint applied well, dried in 3-4 hours, could not be scratched, or 
washed or rubbed off, was impervious to heat and cold, withstood the test of time (time not 
stated), and remained liquid for weeks in a stoppered animal horn. 

A. R. Willcox (1973) (see also Willcox 1956, 1959, 1971) 

The pigments were mostly mineral oxides, the various oxides of iron for red, yellow, brown; 
manganese gave black; and possibly zinc oxide was used for white. He mentions experiments at 
Witwatersrand University with powders in concretions which were subjected to various degrees 
of heat to give most of the rock art colours (see Segal 1935 above; Willcox 1956 above). Burnt 
bone or charcoal gave black, bird droppings and plant latex were probably used for white. He 
says brushes of hair were used; in later times in Lesotho horse-tail hair was used. He suggests 
feathers, and 'according to one eye-witness, paint was applied by pointed pieces of bone'. 
Several unfinished paintings show that where white was used, the white was applied as a 
'primer' and left exposed where required. 

R. T. Johnson (1975) (see also Johnson 1957) 

'Amongst the numerous recordings of hand-impressions, mention must be made of a total 
in excess of 750 near "Extension Two", Clanwilliam. One might well exclaim "What a waste of 
pigment!" . . . Such examples raise further thoughts on some of the theories previously 
advocated regarding medium . . . one is tempted to doubt "prescriptions" suggested by the 
critics regarding media such as marrow fat, plant juice such as vingerpol, botterboom and 
harpuisbos and gall. The physical effort involved in procuring sufficient liquid was . . . 
excessive. . .'. 

P. VlNNICOMBE (1976) 

The author remarks on the faintness of relatively recent paintings of wagons, 'which 
suggests that the later paintings lacked adequate binding properties'. Some paints, such as 
white, are fugitive (p. 139 et seq.). There is evidence that some paintings were outlined and 
filled in with white and that other colours were placed on top of it (p. 139). 'Silayi' is quoted 
(p. 66) (see Stanford 1910 herein). Fat was widely reported by the early colonists to have been 
a component of Bushman paint; eland fat was traditionally a component of Bushman paint (her 
note 46 erroneously quotes Wells 1933, see herein); 'mortar stones containing pulverized ochre 
mixed with animal fat were found in painted shelters at the beginning of this century' (quotes a 
letter in correspondence files of Natal Museum, Whyte to Bousefield 3.11.1910; Moszeik 1910 
(in error); Adam 1940 (1949 edition herein) who misquoted Moszeik). 'My own practical 
experiments with pigments and media have shown that the addition of blood makes the paint 
appreciably more durable than a mixture without blood, which possibly explains why the red 
portions of eland paintings have outlasted the colours in so many instances (pp. 180, 182) (the 
nature of the experiments for durability and the ingredients for the mixture without blood were 
not given). A simple analysis of the colours (not pigments) is given (p. 362). 


J. & I. Rudner (1978) (see also Rudner & Rudner 1970) 

Fat for a medium will have had to be fluid or be kept warm to have been able to make the 
fine lines in the paintings. Ostrich and seal fat remain fluid after rendering. Weathering of the 
paintings is discussed (p. 71). 

K. W. Butzer et al. (1979) 

Their footnote 15 reads: 'Prehistoric paint pigments, mixed with albuminous binders, 
resins, or animal fat or marrow, consist of (i) charcoal, soot, or ground manganiferous 
concretions for black colors; (ii) pulverized ferric (limonitic or hematitic) concretions (ochre, 
specularite) or ferruginized shales and sandstones, sesquioxide-ricji clayey to sandy soils, or 
animal blood for yellow, orange, brown or red shades; and marl, gypsum, kaolin, or bird guano 
for whites.' (References or evidence for these statements were not given.) 




The yellow-skinned people whom the sixteenth and early seventeenth 
century voyagers encountered along the South African Cape coast were, for the 
most part at least, those later called 'Hottentots', in fact, the term was first 
applied to these people at the coast (see various travellers in Raven-Hart 1971). 
Much has been written about the origin of this name (e.g. Vedder 1928, 1938: 
25; Maingard 1935; Nienaber 1963Z?) and an alternative collective name for these 
people (e.g. Wilson 1969; Boeseken 1972, 1974, 1975; Elphick 1974, 1975). 
Vedder (1928: 112) maintained that the Hottentots did not have a distinctive 
name to include all their tribes; Nama is a collective term that originally 
included some tribes only. The details are not relevant here. 

The historical general term 'Hottentot' is used here in accordance with the 
original references and identifications, and as outlined in the introductory 
section to this study. 

The tribes and their economies 

Accounts of the Hottentots before the settlement of the Cape, and early 
accounts in the years following the white settlement, frequently referred to the 
impoverished Hottentot Strandlopers or beachcombers living along the coast, 
and almost invariably remarked thatlhey ate half-raw, uncleaned offal, stranded 
whales and seals, fish, shell-fish, and wild food plants. They wore undressed 
skins, and wrapped the 'guts' of animals round their legs and left them to dry — if 
the accounts are to be believed, they ate them in times of need (see Raven-Hart 
1971). These Strandlopers, or historical beachcombers, were a Hottentot sub- 
group by virtue of their economy, and they associated themselves with the other 
Hottentots, as a study of the literature so amply shows. (See also Nienaber 

Commander Jan van Riebeeck (1651-62) was the first to list the Cape 
Hottentot tribes, mainly from information received from Herry, himself a 
Strandloper, who had acquired some English while on a voyage to Bantam on an 
English ship. The information in Van Riebeeck's Journal is confusing: he used 
different terms for the same groups and, not unnaturally, contradicted earlier 
reports as he found new information. Three main groups of Hottentots were 

(i) the Strandlopers (also called Watermen, Fishermen, Vismans, Goerin- 
gaina or Goringhaikona — there were also other references to 'Fishermen' that 
might have meant Bushmen); they did not possess livestock except that which 
they obtained by theft; 

(ii) the Saldanhamen or Saldanhars included four groups; 'all are known 
under the name of Kaapmans, and live on this side of the Great Berg River and 
together make war on those on the other side who are the real Saldanhars' (Van 
Riebeeck 1657 2: 184); the Strandlopers also counted as 'Kaapmans', and, 


except for them, these people had livestock, their herds diminishing or increas- 
ing in size depending on how many animals they had stolen or had been stolen 
from them by other Hottentot groups; 

(iii) the 'real' Saldanhars (Van Riebeeck 1657 2: 184), the nomadic main- 
land Hottentot tribes, owned large herds of cattle and sheep, which they brought 
to the Cape from time to time to graze; the 'Namaqua', first encountered by the 
Dutch in 1661, were 'very rich in cattle, and very tall in stature, almost half 
giants, dressed in fine prepared skins' (Van Riebeeck 1662 in Moodie 1838: 
248), 'a different race from these greasy Hottentoos' (Wagenaar 1662 in Moodie 
1838: 256). 

Maingard (1931) discussed the early Cape tribes in detail and compiled a 
distribution map (see also his references and Dapper (1668), Wikar (1779), 
Schapera (1930)). The Cape Hottentots formed two main groups, the tribes in 
and near the Cape Peninsula, and those along the eastern part of the south 
coast; other tribes were beyond Saldanha Bay and further beyond the Olifants 
River. Two other groups were the Griqua, originally from the Olifants River 
Valley, who had an admixture of European and slave blood, and the Kora, 
along the middle Orange River. Various other tribes lived along the Orange 
River (see Wikar 1779; Engelbrecht 1936: 11). Some of the tribes to the east 
were mixed with Bantu-speaking peoples (Bruwer 1972); among them were the 
Gona, described by Le Vaillant (1790) and others. 

The Nama people consisted of two groups: the Little Nama ('Namaqua') in 
the north-western Cape south of the Orange River, and the eight great Nama 
tribes in South West Africa, of which six formed an alliance under the leadership 
of the Ghei-//khaun or Rooi Nasie — the allied tribes called themselves the 
/awakhoin (Red People) — and the remaining two tribes were the Topnaars, 
around Walvis Bay, and the Bondelswarts (Vedder 19286). 

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a number of the Cape groups, 
later known as Orlams (or Oorlams), of which there were five groups, and the 
Basters, were roving and plundering south of the Orange River. Some settled in 
Namaqualand south of the river, others crossed into South West Africa, the 
Orlams early in the nineteenth century, the Basters towards the middle of that 
century (Vedder 19286, 1938; Triimpelman 1948; Bruwer (1972) (see also 
Schapera 1930, 1933). 

Apparently the inland people were not as obnoxious in their ways as those at 
the Cape coast, although reports vary, but customs were often much the same. 
Burchell (1822 1: 249), for instance, remarked on their 'greasy bodies' but that the 
'fresh necklace of twisted entrails' was well washed and cleaned, in contrast to 
reports on Hottentots living at the coast. There were great differences in the 
environments and fortunes of these tribes: at one end of the scale were the 
Hottentot Strandlopers, and on the other the 'Namaquas' who were far superior, 
both economically and physically, to the others; they were pastoralists as well as 
hunters and gatherers, but they seldom slaughtered their stock except for rituals or 
ceremonies (see e.g. Dapper 1668; Ten Rhyne 1686: Mentzel 1787). 


Physical differences among the various Hottentot tribes or groups were 
recorded by early travellers: the 'Namaquas' were said to have been taller than 
those at the Cape (see Raven-Hart 1971 index), and Alexander (1838) thought 
that the 'Great Namaquas are taller than the Little Namaquas, but they have the 
same general resemblances, their colour being yellowish-brown'. Many travellers 
remarked on their light skins (in the seventeenth century Boiling, Cowley, De 
Loubere, Tachard (in Raven-Hart 1971); Valentyn (1726 2: 61), Mentzel (1787: 
277-278), Barrow (1806: 106), Ridsdale (1883: 74)). 

Changes in their economies through contacts with seafarers were already 
taking place by the time the white settlement was established in the mid- 
seventeenth century, and from then onwards the process accelerated — many lost 
their livestock through barter and raids, and tribes disintegrated. The Hottentots 
who had lost their livestock worked for the colonists or lived as hunters and 
gatherers and, because of their way of subsistence, were frequently confused 
with the culturally different Bushmen (see e.g. Moodie 1838) who spoke 
different languages (although some might have spoken a Hottentot language as 
is the case today), and who had different social structures, customs, traditions 
and beliefs (see Bushman section); but without knowledge of these often elusive 
aspects of culture, identification would have been, and is, impossible. Large 
numbers of Hottentots died in the three smallpox epidemics in the eighteenth 
century. In South West Africa the nineteenth century was marked by Hottentot 
wars, between the Nama and the invading Orlams from the Colony on the one 
hand, and the Herero on the other, and Hottentot bands plundered livestock 
from other indigenous people and from white settlers as far north as southern 
Angola (Moller 1899). They were finally subjugated by the Germans at the 
beginning of the twentieth century. 

In spite of their different economies and their wide distribution, the 
Hottentot people had various cultural characteristics in common: they spoke 
related languages (Westphal 1962, 1963); they had distinctive customs and 
traditions (see inter alios Kolb 1731; Wikar 1779; Hahn 1867, 1881; Stow 1905; 
Hoernle 1918, 1923; Vedder 19286, 1938; Schapera 1930; Engelbrecht 1936), 
some of which varied among tribes or groups but others were basically the same; 
and folklore and beliefs (Hahn 1881). 

Most of the descendants of these people are of mixed descent who have lost 
virtually all aspects of the old culture, though here and there the past is apparent 
in a few customs and beliefs. However, this is not so in the case of the Nama 
people of South West Africa, who number some 40 000 (C. G. Coetzee, 
State Museum, Windhoek, 1980 pers. comm.), and who have retained their 
identity and language to a large extent (see following section on the present-day 

Sources of information 

These, then, were the historical people whose pigments and paints are dealt 
with in this section. As mentioned in the introductory chapter, the literature has 


been studied for all substances that have been suggested in the past as possible 
ingredients for paints, and the pigments and paints themselves have been noted. 

Some travellers and writers copied and even distorted the writings of their 
predecessors, so that too much reliance should not be placed on repeated 
information that might have had only one original source. For instance, Schreyer 
(1681) relied almost entirely on his own observations, but his information was 
used by others such as Hesse, Meister, Bogaert, Kolb, and Valentyn (Raven- 
Hart 1971; 113); Dapper (1668), who did not visit the* Cape, copied Hondius 
(1652) and others; Bogaert and De Grevenbroek copied Dapper; Langhansz 
took information from Meister (both in Raven-Hart 1971); Mentzel (1787: 262, 
276) wrote of a 'Kolbian myth' and of Kolb's 'lies' and 'nonsense' but made 
liberal use of his writings anyway; Le Vaillant (1790: 300) had 'never read any 
voyage to Africa in which the absurd reveries of Kolben have not been adopted', 
and he also attacked Sparrman (1785) for his remarks on the Hottentots; but Le 
Vaillant himself was open to criticism (Vedder 1938: 31; Forbes 1965). and his 
experience of Hottentots seems to have been limited mainly to the Gona; later 
writers, such as Theal, Stow (1905), and Schapera (1930) did not always clearly 
give their sources of information. 

The data part for this section has been placed after the discussion and 
summary and serves as a detailed source of reference. Inevitably much of the 
information will be repetitive, but the numerous references may indicate how, 
when, and where certain practices varied or were, perhaps, discontinued. For 
convenience the information is given in chronological order, which may also 
serve to locate an original source of information and subsequent plagiarisms. 
Various spellings of proper names (including those of regions) and identifica- 
tions of groups or tribes have been retained according to the original sources. 
Dates without parentheses next to names in the subheadings indicate the time 
when the information was gathered, or they indicate a sequence of visits to the 
Cape; dates in parentheses in the subheadings indicate references to publica- 
tions; and other references are given in the text in the usual manner. 


As references and detailed information are in the data at the end of this 
section, references other than new ones are given in this discussion only when of 
special significance or to indicate a particular time. 

The relevant information regarding most of the substances mentioned in the 
data has been set out in tables. Source and time of information appear in the 
first columns but the years are not necessarily dates of publication. In the tables 
distinction is drawn between 'mixed with', e.g. a pigment mixed with fat, and 
'used with\ e.g. a pigment applied to the skin after fat had been applied (see 
main introduction for key to tables). Names of tribes or groups in the second 
columns follow the spellings of the original authors; when the tribe had not been 
named but identification is possible, the name appears in parentheses. Much of 
the information is vague and incomplete and, therefore, the original names have 


also sometimes been retained in the discussion, rather than tamper with the 

The author uses tribal names in the singular, in accordance with modern 
practice. 'Nama' is used as a general term for the tribes or groups in South West 
Africa, the term by which they are still known today. 


There was scarcely an early traveller and writer who did not mention fat in 
connection with the Hottentots, and then only by omission. In studying the 
information (Table 5), it is clear that fat was of paramount importance to the 
Hottentot people, not only for use by itself in various ways, but also with 
additives or in conjunction with other substances. 

In the majority of the approximately 230 references to fat in this study — 
some 67% — the kinds of fat that were used were not specified. Some would 
have been fat from domestic animals, although a number of early travellers 
remarked that the pastoral Hottentots seldom slaughtered their stock, particu- 
larly cattle, and then mainly for ritual purposes; normally they ate only those 
animals that were old, infirm, or had died of natural causes; they also hunted for 
meat. The stockless coastal Hottentot Strandlopers also fished and were scaven- 
gers who made use of stranded whales, particularly for their blubber (see 
Raven-Hart 1971, index). Few specific references to marrow were found, but it 
must have been widely used. 

The kinds of fat and their uses are discussed separately. 

Sheep fat 

Thirty-four (14%) of the references to fat in this study specified sheep fat. 
Several of these indicated that the soft tail fat was specially liked. These 
references covered all the Hottentot areas over the last three centuries, but 
tapered off in the nineteenth century when fewer of the Hottentots owned sheep. 

The major use for this fat was as a general skin salve or lubricant and, 
especially when mixed with pigments or used with pigments, as a cosmetic. 
Women at the Cape, and Gona and Kora women used this fat to adorn their 
faces in this way, and so did Gona men to a limited extent. None of these 
references specifically mentioned that the Nama used sheep fat with pigments, 
but they used it in other ways and there is little doubt that sheep fat is included 
among the many unspecified fats. 

There were six references to sheep fat used as an external medicine, i.e. by 
the Hottentots in general, by those at the Cape coast and inland, and by the 
'Namaqua' (it is not clear whether this included the people north of the Orange 
River) . 

Sheep fat was used ritually at the Cape in the semi-castration ceremony and 
in male initiation; there were two references to its use by the Nama, i.e. for a 
healing process, and for a bride when fat was hung round her neck, according to 


Other uses included the softening of animal skins and, in one instance, 
chewed suet and dung were mixed to caulk a boat (Ridgill 1870), but this 
mixture might not have been a Hottentot custom. 

There is evidence, therefore, that sheep fat was used as an ingredient of 
body paint — this will be further discussed with the information on pigments 

Goat fat 

The only two references (less than 1 % ) to the use of goat fat were in this 
century, when it was used as a ritual cleanser with dung at Walvis Bay (Hoernle 
1918) (by the Topnaars?), and as an external medicine by the 'Hottentots' 
(Laidler 1928) (Nama?). At this time these people had been reduced to keeping 
mainly goats. Hoernle (1918) pointed out that the historical Hottentots did not 
own goats, but Coetse (1760) remarked that the 'Enoquas' (Wikar's Eynikkoa 
along the Orange River) possessed much stock, including 'a sort of goat the size 
of an indigenous hartebeest'. The goats were apparently obtained from the 
Bantu-speaking Tlhaping. 

Cattle fat 

There were nine references only (4%) to the fat of cattle. It was used as a 
skin salve and cosmetic and on clothing at the Cape, and as an internal medicine 
in the interior (Ten Rhyne 1686). 

The majority of references in this category were to the use of cattle fat in 
rituals: at the Cape in a marriage ceremony, in about 1858 in the Orange Free 
State at Kora male and female initiation, and by the Nama in female initiation 
and at a wedding. 

Cattle fat must have been included in the numerous unspecified fats 
mentioned in the references, but from the available evidence it would seem that 
it was used less often than the fat of sheep. 

A reference to the use of this fat with pigments was not found, but this does 
not preclude the possibility that it was used in this way. 

Game fat 

The use of fat of game animals was mentioned only five times (less than 
2%), which is probably not a true reflection of its use. The Hottentots hunted 
various animals — elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus were trapped in pit- 
falls, various antelope, smaller mammals, and birds were among the game 
trapped and hunted (see Raven-Hart 1971, index). An elephant has a lot of fat 
that is good for eating (Andersson 1873); Thunberg (1793) found that the Cape 
Hottentots drank the fat of the hippopotamus, and the Nama regarded its fat as 
a luxury food (Ridsdale 1883). Sparrman's (1785) servants smeared themselves 
with the fat of game that had been shot. The Kora used lion fat as an external 
medicine (Engelbrecht 1936). 

Table 5 
Fat used by the Hottentots. 

1 1 ! 1 I 1 ! I I 

f I 

Lodewijckz 1595 


Van Enkhui/cn Inm 

Herders. Mossd B.i\ 

Malelief 1608 

Table Bay 

Van PurmcKiidi Ion 1 

Downton 1610 et sec] 


Terry 1616 

Herders. Saldanha 

Herbert 1627 


Mundy 1634 

Table Bay 

Van MandcMo 1639 

Herders, Table Bay 

De Flacourt 1648 

Tavernier 1649 

Herders. Cape 

Hondius 1652 

Flesh Bay 

Hondius 1652 

Table Bay 

Van Riebeeck 1654 


Van Riebeeck 1654-62 Herders. Cape 

Merklein 1653 


Nieuhof 1654 

Herders, Cape 

Nieuhof 1654 


Nieuhof 1654 

'Strandloopcrs Cape 

Nieuhof 1654 


Nieuhof 1654 


Heeck 1655 

Herders. Cape 

Herport 1659 


Saar 1660 

Table Bay 

Meerhof 1661 

Namaqua herders 

Wagenaar 1662 


Schoulen 1665 

Strandlopers, Cape 

Iversen 1667-8 

Dapper 1668 



Dapper 1668 

'Strantlopers'. Cape 

Dapper 1668 

Schreyer 1668 


Schreyer 1668 

Schreyer 1668 


Schreyer 1668 

Schreyer 1668 


Van Overbeke 1668 

Vermeulen 1668 

Herders. Cape 

Crundtl 1670 

Sandwich Harbour. 


Boiling 1670 


Cortemundc 1672 


Hoffman 1672 



Meister 1677. 1688 

Meister 1677. 1688 

Meister 1677. 1688 


Meister 1677, 1688 


Vogel 1679 


Vogel 1679 


Tappen 1682 


Tappen 1682 


De Chaumont 1685 

Herders, Cape 

De Choisy 1685 

Slr.iiKllopcrs, Cape 

De Farbin 1685 


Tachard 1685 


Tachard 1685 


Tachard 1685 


Cowley 1686 


Ten Rhyne 1686 

Ten Rhyne 1686 


Ten Rhyne 1686 


Ten Rhyne 1686 


De la Loubiire 1687 


Browne 1691 


Browne 1691 


Browne 1691 


Dampier 1691 


Ovington 1693 


Langhansz 1694 


Langhansz 1694 


De Grevenbroek 1695 


De Grevenbroek 1695 


De Grevenbroek 1695 


De Grevenbroek 1695 


De Grevenbroek 1695 


Leguat 1698 


Leguat 1698 


Wintergcrst 1699 


Bogaert 1702 


Bogaert 1702 


Bogaert 1702 

Bogaert 1702 


Cnoll 1710 

Houw Hoek 

Valentyn 1726 


Valentyn 1726 

Kolb 1731 

Kolb 1731 


Sign of wealth, on cloaks 
To prevent 'dropsy' 

W nh pmhl.K-k and sod! 

For sickness, wounds. 

Melted fat on bi 
groom, garment 
For sun. cold, d 

in skin bag 
For convalcscen 
On his blanket 

Ami -hi li.imk. wuli 
On garments 

Willi snot and dirt 

On skin clothes 

Red chalk-stone in spols 
With soot, and clntluni:. 
sign of wealth 
Made in skin bag for 
smearing or sale. 

Kolb 1731 


Kolb 1731 


Kolb 1731 


Table 5 (com.) 
Fat used by the Hottentots. 

8 I 1 g S 

•g a f s s 


I I 1 I 1 1 I 
•s « g •§ a « -s 

I I 

Allamand & Klockner 


Allamand & Klockner 


Allamand & Klockner 


Allamand & Klockner 


Allamand & Klockner 


Allamand & Klockner 


Roos & Marais 1778 


Wikar 1779 

Orange R. 

Wikar 1779 

Orange R. 

Wikar 1779 


Wikar 1779 

Orange R.? 

Wikar 1779 


Wikar 1779 


Sparrman 1785 

Sparrman 1785 


Sparrman 1785 

Sparrman 1785 

Sparrman 1785 

His servants 

Mentzel 1787 


Mentzel 1787 


Mentzel 1787 

Mentzel 1787 

Mentzel 1787 


Mentzel 1787 


Mentzel 1787 

Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Patterson 1790 

Orange R. mouth 

Patterson 1790 

Thunberg 1793 

Servants. Paarl 

Thunbere 1793 

Thunberg 1793 


Thunberg 1793 

Thunberg 1793 


Thunberg 1793 


Thunberg 1793 

Thunberg 1793 


Thunberg 1793 


Kicherer 1799 


Paravicini di Capelli 


Percival 1804 


Barrow 1806 


Latrobe 1818 


Burchell 1822-4 


Burchell 1822-4 


Burchell 1822-4 

Burchell 1822-4 


Campbell 1822 


Thompson 1827 

Gariep R. (Orange R.) 

Teenstra 1830 


Smith c. 1833 

Smith 1834-6 


Smith 1834-6 

Alexander 1838 


Alexander 1838 

Namaqua, S.W.A. 

Alexander 1838 

Namaqua. S.W.A. 

Alexander 1838 

Namaqua. S.W.A. 

Alexander 1838 

Namaqua. S.W.A. 

Baines 1842-53 


Arbousset & Daumas 

Koranna, Gariep R. 


Napier 1849 

Early Cape 

Chapman 1849-o3 


Harris 1852 


Livingstone 1857 



Kora, Bethany. O.F.S. 

On stomach 
Drank fat 

Rendered U nil pit IC lit 

Raw fat, patient 

With buchu, hair 

For new-born 

For leatherware 

With soot on face in spot 

With soot, male inmate 

Against wind, mi 

For tanning 
Melted in pots. I 
calabash, bag. bl 
Rendered tail 
fat preferred 
Perfumed salve 

From 'wax-shrub 
On sheepskins 
Tail fat best 

smearing; made i 

Red clay, cheeks 

With red ochre 

Barren women 

On mourn 


Sun is mas 



WomL-n u* 

e buchu and fat 

Streaks wi 

With charcoal on 


huh. ik wild |i.>\uliTi -I 


Jniii.ile. with powdered 

Borcherds 1861 




before 1867 

Hahn 1867 et scq. 


Ridgill 1870 


Fritsch 1872 

Fritsch 1872 

Fritsch 1872 


Fritsch 1872 


Fritsch 1872 

Dunn 1872-3 

Orange R 


■i Lunneii^ 

Sinn ot we.ilth .iimuisI 

cold, with ash protects 

With red 

With ochre 

For festivals, with red, 

black, purple 

Table 5 (com.) 
Fat used by the Hottentots. 

Dunn 1872-3 


Hahn 1881 
Stow, before 1882 
Ridsdale 1883 
Ridsdale 1883 
Von Francois 1896 


Nama. S.V 



Von Francois 1896 


Schultze 1907 
Schultze 1907 
Schultze 1907 
Schultze 1907 


Schultze 1907 
Schultze 1907 


Schultze 1907 


Fischer 1913 
Fischer 1913 
Fischer 1913 

Basters, S 

Hoernhi 1918 
Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.V 

s i i .i 1 

= S. -3 5 3 

5 -s -s -s -s 

1 I I 

Drunk warm 

Kept in ox-h 
Raw. chewei 

11,1,1 picniu 

Hoernle 1918 

Hoernli 1918 
Hoernle 1918 
Theal 1919 

Theal 1919 

Dornan 1925 

Laidler 1928 

Laidler 1928 
Laidler 192S 

Vedder 1929 

Vedder 1938 

Schapera 1930 

Schapera 1930 
Schapera 19311 
Schapera 1930 

Schapera 19311 
Schapera 1930 
Schapera 1930 

EngclbreLhl 193 

Engelbrecht 1936 
Engelbrecht 1936 
Engelbrecht 1936 

Nama, S.W.A. 




X x m 





















Engelbrecht 1936 

Engelbrecht 1936 

Engelbrecht 1936 

Engelbrecht 1936 
Engelbrecht 1936 
Engelbrecht 1936 

For massaging, in hoi 
pouch, calabash 
Stomach, kidney fat 3 
bulb as glue to close 

With n.kK 
black haem 
With milk. 


Ostrich fat remains an oil when rendered and would have been available, 
but a reference to its use was not found. 

References to game fat having been used for paints were not found, but it 
might have been utilized in this way. 

Whale/fish oil 

Ten references (4%) to the use of whale oil or 'fish oil' were found. The 
latter probably meant blubber from whales or seals. 

This fat was used mainly as a general skin salve, apparently by herders as 
well as Hottentot Strandlopers at the Cape, although Kolb (1731) maintained 
that the Hottentots did not use whale and 'fish oil'. It was also used as a food at 
the Cape (three references). The latest reference that was found to its use (as a 
salve) was by Paterson, in 1790, at the Orange River mouth. 

Vegetable fat 

This kind of fat was found mentioned four times only (1,6%): of these 
references, two (Tavernier in 1649, and Nieuhof in 1654) are doubtful and 
suspiciously identical, both mentioning a grease prepared from 'herbs' and 
applied to prevent 'dropsy': it might have been grease mixed with buchu seen on 
the skins of the Hottentots. Along the Orange River the 'Einikkoas' (Kora or 
'Namaqua', see Engelbrecht 1935: 225-228) used chiefly sweetly scented oil 
instead of fat for rubbing on themselves; it was obtained from roasted, crushed 
seeds. The attraction was possibly its pleasant scent when compared with the 
rancid smell of old animal fats. This was possibly Pappea capensis mentioned by 
Palmer & Pitman (1972: 283). The fat coating on Myrica cordifolia berries 
('wasbessie', 'waschboom') was melted off in boiling water and eaten. The 
colonists used the fat for making candles, according to Allamand & Klockner 
(1778). According to Palmer & Pitman (1972: 417), the fruit coat yields a large 
amount of fat used for candles, soap, and food in the Colony. 

It is not surprising that little mention is made of vegetable fats, as the 
historical Hottentots — herders as well as those employed by the colonists — 
usually had easy access to animal fats. References to the use of vegetable fats for 
paints were not found. 


There were seventeen references (about 7%) to butter; five of these 
mentioned only that the Hottentots made it (the 'Namaqua' and Cape people in 
the seventeenth century, and the Nama (Schultze 1907)), usually in a skin bag. 

Six writers mentioned butter used as a general skin salve; of these, two 
wrote that a new-born baby was smeared with it (Kolb 1731, copied by Mentzel 
1787); all these references were to the Cape in the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries, and to the Nama (Hahn 1881; Schapera 1930). There was one 
reference to its use, with soot, on skin garments at the Cape, and one to its use 
in the interior as a cosmetic on hair. 


Butter was used as a food by the Cape herders, the Nama, and the Kora 
who drank it. De Grevenbroek, Kolb, and Thunberg maintained that the 
Hottentots did not eat butter but used it only for smearing. 

Butter was used in rituals (Hahn 1881) (Nama?); the Kora used it in rituals 
(Engelbrecht 1936); it was not to be used for smearing for the rest of the year 
after the death of a chief, according to De Grevenbroek (1695). 

The only reference found to the use of butter as an ingredient of paint was 
that of Kolb regarding its use with soot on skin garments. 


The only references to the use of cream that were found were those of 
Engelbrecht (1936) regarding the Kora, who used it as a family and also a ritual 
cleanser with dung; it was also used with pigments as a ritual cleanser, therefore 
forming an ingredient of paint. 

Unspecified fats 

As with most of the specified fats, the majority of references here were to 
the use of fat as a general skin salve on bodies, faces, and heads. Fat was 
particularly liberally used at the Cape (as Van Riebeeck found to his cost in a 
goodwill embrace) to protect the skin against the elements, to keep out the cold, 
for health and to ward off ills, for 'agility' and 'suppleness', and to indicate 
wealth, according to early reports. More practically, Sparrman (1785) pointed 
out that the use of fat was a necessity in a dry climate. The light skins of the 
Hottentots, remarked on by Barrow (1806: 106) and others (see Raven-Hart 
1971, index), would have made protection from the sun very necessary. 

This smearing seems to have been universal among the Hottentots, regard- 
less of their economies, and included even those who had become detribalized 
and worked in the service of the colonists. The wealthier ones, i.e. the herders, 
at the Cape were said by some to have used more fat than others, particularly on 
skin garments. The Gona, too, seemed to have used fat very liberally. The 
availability of fat would also have determined the extent of its use, although the 
'Namaqua' herders further inland apparently made less liberal use of fat for 
smearing themselves (Wagenaar in 1662); Meerhof (in 1661) did not mention fat 
when he described them. Coetse (1760) reported that the 'Great Amaquas' 
beyond the Orange River did not smear themselves with fat, but that they did 
not use it on themselves at all is to be doubted — the Nama people certainly did 
smear themselves but not to an excessive extent, and it was apparently mainly 
for ritual purposes, as with the Kora, and for facial cosmetics for women. 

In the late nineteenth century and in this century, when other groups had 
lost their way of life and identity, the reports of fat used as a body salve were 
confined almost exclusively to the Nama of South West Africa and the Kora 
along the Orange River, and eventually these, too, tapered off. 

The next most important use for these fats was as a cosmetic — its general 
use as a smearing agent must have included cosmetic purposes, particularly 


when mixed with, or used with, various additives such as pigments or buchu. 
There are many references to this specific use by the Cape Hottentots, both 
herders and Strandlopers, also by those further inland, although there are few 
direct references to such use by the Namaqua (south of the Orange River). 
Later reports refer also to this practice by the Gona and especially the Kora and 

One reference only was found that specifically mentioned general fats as 
cleansers for everyday use — the Kora used fat with cow-dung for this purpose 
(Engelbrecht 1936). 

According to De Grevenbroek (1695) it was taboo to use fat (or butter) for 
a time after the death of a chief. 

Few writers mentioned the ritual use of fats before the eighteenth century, 
but it played an important role in the rituals of Hottentots generally, particularly 
as cleansers and when used with pigments. Although Le Vaillant (1790) 
did not mention the ritual use of fat among the Gona, it is unlikely that they 
would have been the exception. At the Cape warm fat was sometimes used 
ritually, and fat was sometimes used ritually in combination with urine. Later 
reports regarding rituals refer particularly to the Kora and Nama who both, 
on some occasions, combined the use of fat with pigments and dung for 
cleansing purposes. 

Records regarding the use of unspecified fats as external medicines (often 
with additives such as powdered, roasted bone, ostrich egg-shell, or red ochre) 
equalled those for ritual uses. Apparently fat as a medicine was in general use by 
all groups, but here, too, a direct reference to medical use by the Gona was not 
found. When observations had become more thorough and many groups had 
broken up, the later references applied mainly to the medical use of fat by the 
Kora and Nama. Various substances were also added to fat for ointments for 
ailments, including wounds and snake-bites. Sometimes warm fat was used. On 
occasion an element of magic was included as when both patient and blankets 
were smeared. 

One certain reference to the internal use of fat as a medicine was that of 
Schultze (1907) in connection with the Nama. Engelbrecht (on the Kora) and 
Schapera (on Hottentots in general) mentioned only that fat formed an ingre- 
dient for 'remedies'. 

Hottentots at the Cape rubbed fat into wounds made for scarification. There 
are various references to cicatration, but not all mention that substances were 
rubbed into wounds. 

Other ways of using fat included the smearing of leather and leather 
garments by all groups, but it seemed to taper off in the nineteenth century when 
European clothing replaced the traditional skin garments. Burchell (1822-4) and 
Engelbrecht (1936) referred to the use of fat on wood from which utensils were 
made by inland Hottentots and Kora respectively. The Kora used a mixture of 
stomach or kidney fat and a wild bulb, or animal glands and charcoal for mastics 
with which to close the apertures in tortoise-shell containers (Engelbrecht 1936). 


There were five references to unspecified fats having been used as food by 
herders and others at the Cape and by the Nama, but fat was probably eaten to a 
much greater extent than was recorded, particularly in a severe climate (see 
Martin 1957: 171 ff.). Alexander (1838 1: 47) was led to remark on the 
enormous amount of fat eaten by the colonists, and no doubt other inhabitants 
felt the need for it too. 

As mentioned above, these unspecified fats were frequently used by all 
groups as an ingredient of cosmetic paints. 


The Hottentots had various uses for dung, both fresh and dry, and it was 
often used together with fat (Table 6). 

The earliest travellers frequently mentioned that the Hottentots at the Cape 
rubbed dung and fat on their bodies, hands, faces, and even hair, or a mixture of 
soot and dung, or dung only. Some seemed to imply that the Hottentot 
Strandlopers left the mixture on their skins as a kind of protection — for this they 
usually used the dung from intestines — but others wrote that among herders and 
other Hottentots the men, women and children used dung as a cleanser. This 
general use on bodies seems to have been confined to the vicinity of the Cape. 
Much later Sparrman (1785) wrote that hands and arms were cleaned with dung; 
Napier (1849) wrote that '200 years ago faces and hands were cleaned with dung 
and men applied it to their bodies with fat and reddish clay', but the use of red 
ochre together with dung and fat does not seem to have been as common as he 
implied (see Pigments below). The Nama used dung as an everyday cleanser for 
their hands. Usually the Hottentots used cattle-dung for cleansing; there was 
one early reference only to sheep-dung having been used in this way (Meister in 
Raven-Hart 1971). 

Cattle-dung was frequently used in rituals, mainly as a ritual cleanser: Kolb 
(1731) recorded the ritual cleansing of a couple after childbirth, Mentzel (1787) 
noted this of the woman only. The Nama used this dung (followed by ochre and 
fat) for girl initiates, widows, and remarriage ceremonies (Hoernle 1918), and 
they used the stomach contents of a sheep when a taboo had been broken (Olpp 
1888). At Walvis Bay, where the people (Topnaars?) had only goats, they used 
goat-dung with fat and ground naras pips for the ritual cleansing of a widow 
(Hoernle 1918). A Kora male initiate was cleansed with a mixture of cattle-dung 
and cream (Engelbrecht 1936). 

Other ritual uses included, at the Cape, the sprinkling of mourners, their 
cattle, and the hut of the deceased with the stomach and bowel contents of a 
sacrificial animal (De Grevenbroek 1695); cattle-dung was rubbed on relatives at 
a funeral (Kolb 1731). 

Two instances were found where dung was used as an internal medicine: the 
Nama used goat-dung in diluted milk for chicken-pox, and powdered hyena 
dung for convulsions. 



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External medical uses at the Cape included warm cow-dung on the affected 
part for snake-bite, and a mixture of warm water and cow-dung was splashed on 
a sick woman. In Namaqualand (Biden & Kling 1912) dung (unspecified) was 
used for medicines. The Nama smeared a sick man with (unspecified) dung and 
fat; they used cattle and goat-dung for poultices, and dung was used for hot 
poultices. The Rehoboth people used warm dung against rheumatism. 

Other uses included a doubtful reference to dung applied to skin clothing at 
the Cape (Bogaert in 1702) — it does not seem to have be*en customary and might 
only have been dirt; cattle-dung was used for tanning shoe-leather (Sparrman 
1785). The Nama used a mixture of blood, dung, and sand for covering a hut 
floor (Von Francois 1896); Schapera (1930) mentioned the use of cattle dung 
and blood for this purpose. Cattle-dung was used to close the opening of the 
butter or fat bag (Schultze 1907) (Nama?). Ridgill's mixture of masticated suet 
and cattle-dung for caulking a boat might have been used traditionally for other 
purposes, but this was not evident from the available information. 

Although the Cape Hottentots applied soot with dung to their bodies, and, 
according to Napier, in the seventeenth century some males used cow-dung and 
animal fat smeared over themselves with 'reddish clay' (this is doubtful evi- 
dence), there is no other evidence that dung was an ingredient for paint. 

For hyrax dung see notes on urine below. 


There are many instances in the literature regarding the ritual use of urine 
by the Hottentots at the Cape, along the Orange River, and in South West 
Africa, as well as some general references to such use (Table 7). 

In 1695 De Grevenbroek recorded that certain of a dead man's belongings 
were 'purged' in men's urine, and an old man urinated on the mourners. 
According to Kolb (1731), men urinated on a boy initiate, and urine was 
sprinkled on mourners, on relatives at a funeral, on a bridal couple, and on a 
successful hunter; in the case of funerals it was used with ashes and dung. 
Allamand & Klockner (1778) noted (from the writings of others) that the 
urinating ritual was used in the semi-castration ceremony, on a male initiate, on 
a bridal couple, and on mourners, all used in conjunction with fat, and, in the 
case of a bridal couple, with buchu as well. Along the Orange River urine was 
used on a male initiate, also with fat (Wikar 1779). Mentzel (1787) wrote that it 
was used on a bridal couple, and in conjunction with buchu, soot, and fat on a 
male initiate. According to Thunberg (1793), urine was sprinkled on a male 
initiate and on a bridal couple. 

Among the early travellers who remarked on these practices, and stated 
that they had not seen them, were Wallenberg (in 1770) who doubted that guests 
at marriages and mourners at funerals were sprinkled with urine, Gordon (in 
1773 et seq.) who had heard of such practices at marriages and boys' puberty 
ceremonies, Sparrman (1785) who had been told that there was some truth in 
the urinating on a bridal couple, and Vaillant (1790) who stated that the 



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urinating ceremony in marriages was falsely ascribed to the Hottentots — but his 
knowledge seems to have been confined mainly to what he had observed among 
the Gona. Others, such as Dapper (1668: 61) and Ten Rhyne (1686: 147) gave 
quite detailed accounts of Hottentot marriage ceremonies without mentioning 
the use of urine. Thompson (1827) saw no evidence of 'Kolben's disgusting 
marriage ceremony' among the Kora on the Orange River. 

In spite of the unreliability of some of the information and the plagiarism, 
particularly of the very early writers, and the doubts "of some of them, later 
information about these rites among the Nama substantiate the existence of 
early rites where urine had been used among some groups at least: a prudish 
transcriber deleted almost all Tindall's (1839-55) information on Nama male 
initiation where men urinated on the initiate — and then destroyed the original 
journal; Hahn (in 1867 et seq.) recorded that urine was sprinkled on the male 
initiate; Fritsch (1872) quoted Hahn on the use of urine in Nama ceremonies; 
urine was sprinkled into a fire for rain-making (Hahn 1881). 

Several writers noted the use of urine for medical purposes. At the Cape, 
Schreyer (in 1668) saw men urinating on a sick man who was then well the 
following day. De Grevenbroek (1695) also recorded this practice and several 
other practices: an alternative cure was to drink a mixture of urine and herbs; 
women's urine was not used, but a man would urinate on the legs of a woman 
who was ill; a man's own boiled urine was used for his wounds. Along the 
Orange River the urine of a poison-drinker was drunk against snake-bite and 
arrow-poison (Wikar 1779); Thunberg (1793) also recorded this remedy against 
snake-bite used by both Bushmen and Hottentots, while Thompson (1827) noted 
that a urine-and-gunpowder remedy was used against snake-bite. 

Hyraxeum, the mixed urine and faeces of dassies found in hardened, 
blackish, shiny masses in rock shelters ('dassiepis', 'klipsweet', 'Steinschweiss') 
(Fig. 4), was used as a remedy for ills at the Cape, but it was not noted whether the 
use was internal or external (Allamand & Klockner 1778; Sparrman 1785). In 
Namaqualand, 'dassiepis' was a kind of magical remedy 'injected' into incisions in 
the skin of a patient (Biden & Kling 1912). It was an internal and external remedy 
for ills, and plasters of it were applied to snake-bites (Laidler 1928); 'dassiepis' 
was rubbed into scarified snake-bites and scorpion stings, and, when boiled and 
strained, it was a female remedy and abortifacient (Schapera 1930). 

'Dassiepis' is still sold in little tins by some country chemists. 

Nama women painted a mixture of water and 'dassiepis' on their faces that 
had been smeared with fat (Schultze 1907) (see also Miscellaneous pigments 

There was no evidence of any other kind of urine having been used as an 
ingredient of paint. 


Several descriptions of the slaughtering of animals showed that the blood 
was retained, but its use was not always specified. 


Fig. 4. A hardened black mass of hyraxeum (dassie excrement, 'dassiepis', 'klipsweet') in a 
rock shelter near Pakhuis Pass, Clanwilliam district. 

The Hottentots used blood in several ways, chiefly for ritual purposes 
(Table 8). Wikar (1779) recorded the cleansing of an 'Eynikkoa' male initiate 
with animal blood; the 'Namaqua' (South West Africa?) smeared the blood of a 
goat on a corpse (Fritsch 1872); drinking lion or 'panther' blood was believed to 
influence the nature of a person or foetus (Hahn 1881) (Nama of South West 
Africa?); a Nama man 'drank' the boiled blood of a lamb if a taboo had been 
broken (Olpp 1888), and he drank animal blood (not said whether raw or 
cooked) to steel himself for war (Schultze 1907). Guests at a Nama wedding ate 
intestines cooked with the blood of the animal slaughtered for the occasion; 
blood of an animal specially slaughtered for a funeral was boiled with a herb and 
relatives sitting round the pot were steamed by plunging a red-hot axe into 
it — the mixture was later eaten by certain persons only; at Berseba (Orlams?) a 
line of blood was made on the stomachs of mourners (elsewhere the Nama used 
potblack) (Hoernle 1918). 

According to Vedder (19286), mourners at a funeral ate a little blood (not 
said whether raw or cooked), and it was mixed with intestines and smeared on 
mourners (Vedder 1938). 

In the Nama remarriage ceremony, blood of the couple mixed with animal 
blood and body dirt was rubbed into cuts in their skins (Hoernle 1918); Hoernle 





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does not rule out its use by other groups. 

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other did not say from what animal the blood was taken. 

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cuts in the skin of a sick person (see above). Dry menstrual blood of a Nama 
initiate was mixed with food to kill enemies, and the same kind of blood of a 
'harmless' girl was used for male sexual diseases (Vedder 19286). 

Other uses for blood that were traced also concern the Nama: it was mixed 
with sand and dung (Von Francois 1896), or with dung only (Schapera 1930) to 
smear on a hut floor. 

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was smeared on persons in a few rites. 


It is known that the Bushmen used the stomach liquid of a slaughtered 
animal as a substitute for water when the latter was scarce — Chapman (1849-63) 
saw Hottentots using the stomach liquid in this way. Previously in this study it 
was mentioned that the contents of the stomach were sometimes used as a 
cleanser (see discussion on dung). 

No other use for this liquid was found in the literature. 


There were relatively few references to water being used in unusual ways, 
and most of these were in rituals, particularly those of the Nama in South West 
Africa (Table 9). 

It seems that washing with water was not a routine habit among the early 
Hottentots — usually other cleansers such as fat or dung were used, but on speical 
occasions water was used. At the Cape, mourners washed themselves after a 
funeral, and a woman washed herself just after childbirth (Langhansz in 1694) or 
some days later (De Grevenbroek 1695). Along the Orange River a male initiate 
was washed with water (and smeared with other substances) (Wikar 1779); 
Barrow (1806) recorded that a girl was washed in puberty rites. 

Inland a boy initiate was given a mixture of dried, powdered entrails and 
water to drink (Campbell 1822). 

Among the Nama, a girl initiate ran naked in the rain; a lion hunter washed 
himself before the hunt and drank water in a special way that became customary 
among the Nama; in his absence his wife poured water on the ground; water was 
poured on a grave (Hahn 1881). Olpp (1888) noted that in male puberty rites 
water was touched and it was splashed on the initiate. Hoernle (1918) described 







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Nama rites where a person in a state of transition had to be introduced or 
reintroduced to water, e.g. mourners after a funeral (as at the Cape), a widower 
and his livestock, babies, sick people, etc., and water was sprinkled on the hut 
of the deceased. These practices recall the ritual wetting or 'purging' with urine 
of the possessions of the deceased, and other ritual wettings with urine at the 
Cape. It may be that among other groups, or in later times, urine was replaced 
by water, but Tindall had still in the last century witnessed a Nama initiation 
where urine was used. 

In ritual-medical practices at the Cape, a sick woman was splashed with a 
mixture of dung and warm water, and a convalescent was washed in warm, then 
cold, water before being smeared with fat (De Grevenbroek 1695). 

There were several references to the drink that the Hottentots brewed from 
water and honey; Le Vaillant (1790) recorded that the Gona included a root in 
the mixture. 

Nama women painted a mixture of hyraxeum ('dassiepis') and water on 
their faces. This is the only reference that was found where water formed an 
ingredient of paint. 


Milk was a source of food for Hottentot herders, who also used it for 
making butter (Table 10). The Kora sometimes used cream for ritual cleansing 
(see under Fat above). Other uses for milk that were found were that the Nama 
threw fat and milk on a fire for rain-making (Bruwer 1972), and fat, buchu and 
mother's milk were mixed as a medicine for earache (Laidler 1928). 

There was no evidence that milk formed an ingredient of paint. 

Table 10 
Milk used by the Hottentots. 

Van Riebeeck 1651-62 


Kept in skin bags 

Dapper 1668 


Kept in wooden vessels 

De Chaumont 1685 

Cape herders 

Drank milk; kept in skin bags 

Ten Rhyne 1686 


Drank milk of cows, sheep 

Bogaert 1702 


Drank milk 

Mentzel 1787 


Drank sour milk; kept in skin bags 

Theal 1919 


Kept in skin bags 

Laidler 1928 


Mother's milk, fat and buchu, for earache 

Bruwer 1972 


With fat on fire for rain 


Eggs were seldom mentioned in the literature (Table 11). Cape Hottentots 
brought ostrich eggs to the settlers for barter; De Grevenbroek (1695) main- 
tained that they did not eat eggs themselves, but, much later, Burchell (1822-4) 
saw inland Hottentots eating ostrich eggs, and so did Ridsdale (1883) in South 
West Africa. Powdered, burnt ostrich egg-shell was used with fat as a salve for 
various purposes by the Nama, Basters, and Kora, and the Basters mixed it with 
water for a poultice. 



Table 11 
Eggs used by the Hottentots. 

Van Riebeeck 1651-62 


Ostrich eggs for barter 

Van der Stel 1684 


Ostrich eggs for barter 

De Grevenbroek 1695 


Eggs not eaten 

Burchell 1822-4 


Ostrich eggs cooked and eaten 

Ridsdale 1883 


Ostrich eggs eaten 

Olpp 1888 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Burnt, powdered ostrich egg-shell with fat 
for baby salve 

Schultze 1907 

Coast, S.W.A. 

Washed hair with raw penguin egg 

Fischer 1913 

Basters, S.W.A. 

Powdered ostrich egg-shell with fat for 

Fischer 1913 

As above 

Powdered ostrich egg-shell with water 
for poultice 

Laidler 1928 


Burnt, powdered ostrich egg-shell and 
fat for 'snuffles' 

Schapera 1930 


Burnt, powdered ostrich egg-shell and 
fat on face and head of new-born 

Engelbrecht 1936 


Burnt, powdered ostrich egg-shell 
(and fat?) for ointment 

The coastal Hottentots in South West Africa (Topnaars?) used raw penguin 
egg when washing their hair. 

The Hottentots also used ostrich egg-shells for making beads. 
There was no evidence that egg was used for making paints. 


This survey is not concerned with the vast variety of plant substances used 
medically, but only with those that were applied in liquid form in unusual ways, 
or used with fat (a substance used with pigments to make paint), or those that 
had been suggested in the past as possible ingredients of paints (Table 12). 
(Plants used for buchu are discussed separately below.) 

Downton's (in 1610) 'juice of hearbes' used on hair and bodies by the 
herders at Saldanha Bay might have been dung. Kolb noted that a new-born 
baby was cleaned with cow-dung and the juice of the Hottentot fig ('suurvy', 

Table 12 
Plant sap used by the Hottentots. 

Downton 1610 et seq. 
Kolb 1731 




Mentzel 1787 


Hoernle 1918 
Hoernle 1918 

Orange R. 
Walvis Bay 

Laidler 1928 
Laidler 1928 


'Juice of hearbes' on bodies and hair 

Sap of Hottentot fig with cow-dung to clean 


Sap of Hottentot fig after use of cow-dung to 

clean new-born 

Brew of euphorbia sap to cleanse widow (ritual) 

Ground naras pips, goat dung and fat mixture 

to cleanse widow (ritual) 

Dagga leaves and fat for pain in eyes 

Euphorbia milk for warts 



Carprobotus sp.), then smeared with fat or butter and buchu; Mentzel, his 
copyist, stated that the dung was used first, the juice, etc. afterwards. 

Along the Orange River a brew of Euphorbia sap (and possibly water) was 
used to cleanse a widow, and at Walvis Bay she was cleansed with ground nara 
{Acanthosicyos horrida) pips, goat-dung and fat (Hoernle 1918). Euphorbia milk 
was used for warts, and dagga leaves and fat were used for pains in the 
eyes — Laidler (1928) did not name the tribe or group, nor the exact way in which 
the Hottentots (Nama?) used this remedy. 

There was no evidence that plant juices were used for paints. 


The 'Namaqua' obtained gum from trees (Van der Stel in 1685). Gum was 
used by the Nama, also with charcoal, for making beads and closing the apertures 
in tortoise-shell containers (Schultze 1907); it was boiled as a food; fat and 
boiled gum formed a salve, and boiled Euryops resin was used for fevers 
(Laidler 1928) (Table 13). 

There was no evidence that gum was used for paints. 

Table 13 
Gum used by the Hottentots. 

Van der Stel 1685 Amaquas Gum was obtained from trees 

Schultze 1907 Nama 'Gum of some plant' with or without charcoal for 

making beads 
Schultze 1907 Nama 'Gum of some plant' for closing apertures in 

tortoise-shell container 
Laidler 1928 General Food; fat and boiled gum for salve 

Laidler 1928 General Boiled Euryops resin for fevers 


Although there were not many references to honey (Table 14), it was 
probably eaten by all the Hottentots. It was eaten at the Cape and used to make 

Table 14 
Honey used by the Hottentots. 

Dapper 1668 Cape Eaten wax and all 

Bogaert 1702 Cape Eaten wax and all 

Brink 1778 Hottentots, Collected for barter 


Mentzel 1787 General Drink brewed, with water and root 

Le Vaillant 1790 Hottentots Drink brewed, with a root 

Thunberg 1793 Hottentots Drink brewed, with water and root 

Smith c. 1833 General Drink brewed, with water and root 

Chapman 1849-63 Hottentots Honey beer a favourite brew 

Dunn 1872-3 Orange R. 200-300 persons for honey-beer drinking 

Hahn 1881 Nama Honey or honey-beer as offering at Heitsi-Eibib's 


Ridsdale 1883 S.W.A. Honey eaten 

Schultze 1907 Nama Honey-beer made; honey kept in skin bag 

Theal 1919 General Used to make an intoxicating drink 


an intoxicating drink; Le Vaillant was possibly referring to the Gona when he 
wrote of a drink brewed of honey and a root; along the Orange River, Dunn saw 
200 to 300 Hottentots gathered for a honey-beer drinking in 1872; Schultze 
(1907) recorded the use of honey as a food among the Nama, who also used 
honey or honey-beer as a ritual offering (Hahn 1881). 

There was no evidence that honey was used as an ingredient of paint. 


In the previous pages the various substances that the historical Hottentots 
used or might have used as media for paints were discussed. 

The pigments and their uses, as well as the substances mixed with them to 
form paints, are examined below, but the paucity of detailed information, 
particularly regarding the sex of the users, frequently allows only limited 

For the sake of convenience, where possible the data are discussed under 
the various pigments according to the main groups or areas. 

Terms for the various mineral pigments have often been haphazardly and 
incorrectly used in the literature — for this reason they have been retained here 
unless correct identification is obvious. 

Ferric oxides 

At the Cape. Davys (in 1598) noted already before the time of the Dutch 
settlement that 'divers colours' were used on their faces by the indigenous 
people — iron oxides (Table 15) must have been among the pigments. The 
Hottentot Strandlopers, and others not identified, at the Cape made marks or 
patterns with 'a red stone' on their faces, according to several travellers, some of 
them plagiarists, no doubt — the stone might have been used as a crayon on the 
greasy faces. Cortemiinde (1672) mentioned that the men smeared their faces 
with red ochre and fat in which they scratched patterns. Kolb (1731) stated that 
the women used this paint in the same way. According to Witsen (in 1691 in 
Hahn 1881), women at the Cape used 'red earth' and buchu as a ritual offering. 
They also used 'various decorative pigments' as cosmetics — haematite must have 
been included. Pots were smeared with a red colouring matter while the clay was 
wet (De Grevenbroek 1695) (see also section on archaeological evidence). 

Valentyn (1726) wrote of 'workings of red and white chalk, mixed earths', 
and referred to the 'smearings and paintings of the young girls* — ferric oxides 
would have been among the pigments. 

Even the women servants painted their cheeks with a red salve (Paravicini 
di Capelli 1803). The statement by Collins (1809) that a Black man in the 
eastern Cape looked more like a Hottentot because of being smeared with red 
ochre, indicates its extensive use among the Hottentots even at that time. 

'Namaqua.' The 'glittering sand' of the 'Namaqua* (Van der Stel 1685). and 
the hard, dark mineral used for women and female animals in difficult births — a 
kind of magic medicine — and esteemed by the 'Namaqua' (Tachard in 1685) 

Table 15 
oxides used by the Hottentots. 

§ 1 S I 1 I 
■3 S S 1 -c 1 

3 .8 

Schouten 1665 

Strandlopers. Cape 

Cortemiinde 1672 


Vogel 1679 


Tachard 1685 


Tachard 1685 


Van der Stel 1685 


Ten Rhyne 1686 


Ten Rhyne 1686 


Witsen 1691 


De Grevenbroek 1695 


De Grevenbroek 1695 


Valentyn 1726 


Kolb 1731 


Wikar 1779 

Namnykoa, Orange R 

Sparrman 1785 


Mentzel 1787 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Somerville 1799-1802 


Paravicini di Capelli 1803 


Collins 1809 


Burchell 1822-4 


Campbell 1822 


Baines 1842-53 


Arbousset & Daumas 1846 

Gariep R. 

Napier 1849 

Early Cape 

Chapman 1849-63 


Harris 1852 


Livingstone 1857 


Borcherds 1861 


Rideill 1870 

Gariep R. 


Oeneral lINaitla/; 

Fritsch 1872 

As above 

Fritsch 1872 


Dunn 1872-3 

Koranna, Kakamas 

Dunn 1872-3 

As above 

Dunn 1872 

Orange R. 

Dunn 1872 

Orange R. 

Hahn 1881 


Hahn 1881 


Hahn 1881 


Ridsdale 1883 

Veldschoen Draager 

Olpp 1888 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Schinz 1891 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Von Francois 1896 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Stow 1905 


Westphal 1906 


Schultze 1907 


Fischer 1913 

Basters, S.W.A. 

Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Laidler 1928 


Vedder 1928 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Vedder 1929 

•Rooi Nasie' 

Vedder 1938 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Schapera 1930 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Engelbrecht 1936 

Kora, Clocolan 

Engelbrecht 1936 

Kora (some groups) 

Engelbrecht 1936 


Engelbrecht 1936 


Engelbrecht 1936 

Kora (some groups?) 

Engelbrecht 1936 


Walton 1956 

'Nama', Orange R. 

Stripes and crosses with a red 

Red stone, patterns made with 


Red stone, crosses made 

A certain stone, powdered 

'Hard, dark mineral' used in 

childbirth and birth of animals 

Had a glittering sand 

'Divers coloured earths' 

As above 

Ritual offering 

'Decorative pigments' 

Red colouring matter for clay 

Workings of red and white chalk 

mixed earths 

Red chalk-stone, in spots 


Red chalk on 
Red earth 
Red ochre, a thousand ways 
Red ochre and soot, on upper lip 
Red clay on cheeks 

And on his kaross. red ochre 
Barter 'ochre' from Griquas 
Also charcoal 

Red ochre and sheep-tail fat 
Reddish clay, animal fat. cow-dung 
Dry 'red-lead' round eyes, anti- 
dote for opthalmia' 
Also on clothes, red ochre 
Red ochre 
Powdered ochres 

by the 'Hottentots' 

As above 

Ochre, 'blinkklip' not used 
Red oxide of iron on blackened 
face; kept in tortoise-shell 
Red. black, purplish brown 
Red, black, purple for festivities 
Their conical pots were red 
Red earth on deity, by women 
(quoting Witsen) 
Red ochre used on occasion 
Red ochre on sacred stones by 

Red dust, protects against sun 
Ochre, puberty rites 
Red paint, during menstruation 
Red ochre, also black paint, not 
used by men 

Shining powder in hair, red paint 
on bodies 
•Rooiklip' (ochre) 
Iron oxide or iron rust with raw, 
chewed fat 

And ground bone for ointment 
Red ochre, in initiation 
Red ochre, cow-dung, initiation; 
also for cleansing widow 
Red ochre, also ground white stone 
used after initiation 
Red ochre, cow-dung, remarriage 
Red paints for remedies 
Reddish ointment, blackish red 
salve during menstruation, early 
pregnancy, on cold days 
Red ochre, tribe named after custom 
Red ironstone 
Haematite, for festivities 
Specularite, dug up by women, not 
used by all groups 
Specularite, male initiate 
Red ochre, kept in horn 
Red ochre and cream, initiate 
Specularite, female initiate 
Sheep or goat pelvic bones smeared 
with red clay, female initiation 
Black haematite', 'certain black ore' 


must have been a form of haematite, perhaps specularite, as it seems to have 
been different from the 'certain stone, powdered', possibly red ochre, that both 
men and women smeared on their bodies with grease (Tachard in 1685). Ten 
Rhyne's (1686) 'diverse coloured earths' used in the interior on faces and hair 
must have included haematite. 'Namaqua' women smeared 'dry redlead' 
(haematite?) round their eyes (Chapman 1849-63). 

Gona. The women smeared red ochre and fat on their bodies and faces, 
sometimes with patterns on the faces, but the men smeared red ochre and soot 
on their upper lips only, according to Le Vaillant (1790). 

Kora. The Kora, in the vicinity of the Orange River, got 'ochre' from the 
Griqua for painting their bodies (Campbell 1822); they smeared themselves with 
grease and used 'powdered ochres' (Borcherds 1861); the women mixed red 
ochre and fat for smearing on their bodies (Arbousset & Daumas 1846); the 
Kora used fat, ochre and buchu on their bodies (Fritsch 1872); the women used 
'red oxide of iron' mixed with fat to make patterns on their blackened faces 
(Dunn 1872-3); red ochre was used on faces (Westphal (1906) did not say 
whether by men or women). The conical pots of the Kora were red (Dunn 
1872-3). Burchell (1822-4) remarked on a Kora man's ochre-covered blanket — 
this was the only reference of its kind regarding garments, etc. 

Engelbrecht's studies also showed that Kora women mixed fat and red 
ochre for a facial cosmetic; among some Kora groups fat and specularite were 
rubbed in the hair of male and female initiates; the body of a female initiate was 
smeared with red ochre and cream; the pelvic bones of a sheep or goat were 
smeared with 'red clay' in the female initiation ceremony. Engelbrecht remarked 
that some Kora customs were said to be Nama. 

Orange River. The 'Namnykoa' along the Orange River smeared a 'kind of 
ore' mixed with fat in their hair — Wikar (1779) did not give the sex of the users. 
This ore, obtained from the 'Blicquoas' (Tlhaping), was possibly specularite: 
Queen Mahoota, a Hottentot living among the 'Bechuana', used specularite and 
fat in her hair (Thompson 1827) — although this was a Tlhaping custom, it was 
also adopted by some of the Hottentots in contact with them. Walton (1956) 
noted that the 'Nama' along the Orange River obtained 'a certain black ore' 
from the Tlhaping, which they mixed with fat and applied to their hair — it is 
more likely that these people were Kora, not Nama. 

Along the very lower reaches of the Gariep (Orange) River, on the South 
West African side, Hottentot women decorated themselves with 'streaks of red 
and yellow ochre' — the streaks were apparently on their faces; Ridgill (1870) did 
not mention fat, but it was probably used as well. Judging by the locality, these 
people could have been Bondelswarts or perhaps Orlams who had trekked from 
the Colony. 

Nama. Hahn (1881), whose work was connected mainly with the Nama 
people, wrote of women who 'anoint themselves with red ochre' on certain 
occasions; he stated that 'Redmen' was the name the 'Khoikhoi' used to 
distinguish themselves from the black people; but this was the name adopted by 


only a group of Nama tribes that came under the leadership of the Red People 
(see Vedder 1928, 1929, and below). Hahn suggested that red was associated 
with blood, that the word for red, i.e. lava or aua, blood-like, took its origin 
from /au, 'to bleed', and that red ochre and other red paint replaced blood in 
ritual sacrifice and the worship of the Khoikhoi. 

Hahn's (1881) reference to the women anointing themselves with red ochre 
and making marks with red ochre on certain sacred stones and cairns is of 
significance, for this is the only direct evidence so far found that Hottentots — 
and women at that — had painted on rocks. 

Fritsch (1872) might have been referring to Nama women when he noted 
that Hottentot women painted red ochre and red 'earth' on their greasy faces, 
sometimes in patterns. 

Ridsdale (1883) saw a Nama woman ('Veldschoen Draager') thickly be- 
smeared from head to foot with fat and 'red dust'; women in South West Africa 
(Nama) painted their faces red during menstruation (Schinz 1891); the women 
made paint from red ochre and fat, perfumed with buchu, with which they 
regularly painted their faces, apparently in patterns, and black paint was also 
used, but the custom was not in use among the men (Von Francois 1896). 'Iron 
oxide or iron rust" was mixed with raw, chewed fat for a facial paint for the 
women (Schultze 1907). 

Vedder (19286) wrote of a reddish ointment and blackish red salve used on 
faces during menstruation, early pregnancy and also on cold days to protect the 
skin; the 'Rooi Nasie' got its name from the custom of the people of smearing 
their bodies with a mixture of fat and ochre (Vedder 1929) — Vedder did not 
make it clear in this instance whether both sexes used the salve. Elsewhere 
Vedder (1938) generalized about the Nama smearing their bodies with an 
ointment of 'red ironstone and fat'. 

Hoernle (1918) recorded several Nama ritual uses for paints: during initia- 
tion the girl's face was painted in patterns with the salve of red ochre and fat; 
she was cleansed with moist cow-dung and the salve; afterwards her face was 
painted in patterns with the same salve and 'ground white stone' (possibly 
quartz — the Kora also used fine quartz, see under Miscellaneous pigments 
below); in a remarriage ceremony the couple were similarly cleansed and 
smeared with the red salve; and a widow, after cleansing with substances that 
varied according to the area and availability, was also rubbed with this red salve. 
According to Olpp (1888), red ochre was used on a boy's body in puberty rites. 

Laidler (1928) noted that 'red paints were used for remedies as blood is 
red': he was probably referring to the Nama in South West Africa. 

Basters. The Basters mixed red ochre, fat, and powdered, burnt bone for an 

The use of specularite 

Fritsch (1872) remarked that the Hottentots (Nama?) did not like 'blinkklip' 
and that 'nowhere is ''blinkklip" mentioned by early authors'; but the 'glittering 


sand' (Van der Stel 1685) and the hard, dark mineral (Tachard in 1685) of the 
'Namaqua', and, perhaps, the 'kind of ore' used along the Orange River (Wikar 
1779) might have been specularite. Some tribes or groups did not prefer 
specularite, and it might not have been available in some areas. Although 
Fritsch questioned information that the Kora used specularite, Somerville (1799- 
1802) had noted before him that they used it, and Engelbrecht (1936) found that 
some Kora groups did use it, at least for ritual purposes, while other Kora 
groups did not and maintained that it was a custom of Bantu-speaking people 
who burnt their red ochre, unlike the Kora; but this, too, was contradicted by 
other Kora people (Engelbrecht 1936). It does not seem that the Hottentots in 
general heated haematite as did Bushmen in Lesotho (see How 1962). 

In this study not sufficient evidence was found to support the statement that 
'it was a recorded habit of the Nama Hottentots to rub specularite into their 
hair' (Woodhouse 1975) — perhaps this meant the people south of the Orange 
River, not the people in South West Africa, but there is insufficient evidence to 
believe that all the 'Namaqua' tribes habitually rubbed specularite into their 
hair, in fact, it seems to have been used only by some groups, mainly some Kora 
groups (see also archaeological evidence). 

Soot and charcoal, ash 

Soot, or potblack, and charcoal were used for a black pigment by many, if 
not all, Hottentot groups (Table 16). The pigment was generally mixed or used 
with some kind of fat for a cosmetic or salve on bodies and faces, sometimes 
painted in patterns. 

At the Cape. Although the sex of the users was frequently not mentioned, it 
seems that among the Cape Hottentots this black pigment was used more by 
men, on both bodies and faces, than by women. Both men and women made 
patterns with it on their faces. Early records tell of patterns being 'indented' 
with fingers after the salve had been applied (Herbert in 1627), or scratched with 
finger-nails into the salve on women's faces or on bodies (Schreyer in 1668). At 
Flesh Bay, near Mossel Bay, the Hottentots blackened their faces (Hondius 
1652). Faces were painted with 'figures' of red and black when strangers came to 
visit (Thunberg 1793). The mixture of dung and soot on bodies mentioned by 
Meister can hardly be regarded as paint. 

There were a few references to soot in the hair, and Kolb and Sparrman 
noted that it was also rubbed on skin garments. 

The only reference to ritual or magical use at the Cape was Schreyer's (in 
1668) mentioning of faces being blackened with a charcoal stick against danger. 

Gona. Men mixed soot and ochre for painting their upper lips which had 
apparently also been smeared with fat. 

On the Orange River. A new hunter had his face ritually smeared with 
potblack and wiped clean in places to leave criss-cross designs. 

Kora. The Kora women on the Orange River painted haematite salve on 
charcoal-blackened faces; for festivals both men and women made patterns with 


charcoal salve (and other salves) on their faces (Dunn 1872-3). An unusual Kora 
use for charcoal was to pound it up with animal glands for a mastic with which to 
close the apertures in tortoise-shell containers (Engelbrecht 1936). 

Nama. The women made odd-looking streaks with soot, used with fat, on 
their faces (Alexander 1838), or they mixed soot with fat to paint on cheeks and 
over eyebrows (Chapman 1849-63). According to Von Francois (1896), the 
women made a cosmetic of soot or charcoal, fat, and buchu with which they 
made patterns on their faces. Beads were made from a mixture of charcoal and 
gum (Schultze 1907). Hoernle recorded the Nama ritual use of potblack for 
making marks under the eyes of a widow, or for making a line on the stomach of 
mourners (other Nama used blood for the latter rite, as mentioned previously). 


References to ash were kept separate as they did not specifically imply a 
pigment, but have been included to complete the record. 

At the Cape, ash was sprinkled on mourners, after urine. Ash and fat were 
mixed and applied to bodies — here Percival (1804) could have meant charcoal. 
Ash with fat, sometimes with buchu, protected the skin against cold and 'other 
things' (Fitsch 1872). The Nama rubbed ash into cicatrization cuts. The Kora 
made an ointment from lion fat and ash (Engelbrecht 1936). 

Plant pigments 

The Hottentots made use of plant pigments (Table 17), some of which 
would have served a dual purpose as they were also aromatic (see also Buchu 
below). Some materials that were chosen for tanning skins and hides also 
coloured the leather and were perhaps preferred to others that did not impart 
the desired colours to the leather. 

The plant pigments that were used are mentioned here according to regions 
or tribes. 

At the Cape. References regarding the use of plant pigments at the Cape 
were not found, although some of the buchu that was used might have had a 
desirable colour. It is not unlikely that De Flacourt's (in 1648) pleasant-smelling 
yellow or tan powder 'or earth' was some plant material. 

At the Orange River. The red scented buchu that the Bushwoman sprinkled 
on the 'Namaqua' man might have been used by both groups, but Wikar (1779) 
did not make this clear. Its colour and scent would have made it a desirable 
cosmetic pigment and perfume; it could have been acacia wood (see below). 

Gona. Women used a powdered, scented red root on their greased bodies, 
which would have served as a cosmetic pigment and perfume. 

Kora. A salve of fat and the pulverized bark of 'a certain tree' was applied 
to the faces of male initiates (Wuras in 1858); the colour was not mentioned and 
it might have been acacia wood (see below). Men and women used a purplish 
brown pigment from a fungus mixed with fat for a facial cosmetic with which 

Table 16 
Soot, charcoal, ash, used by the Hottentots. 

Herbert 1627 


De Flacourt 1848 


Van Riebeeck 1651 

-62 Cape 

Dapper 1668 


Schreyer 1668 


Schreyer 1668 


Schreyer 1668 


Vcrmeulen 1668 

Herders, Cape 

Tachard 1685 


Cowley 1686 


Browne 1691 


Leguat 1698 


Kolb 1731 


Kolb 1731 


Allamand & Klockn 

:r Cape 

Wikar 1779 

Orange R. 

Sparrman 1785 


S'p.'i'r'rmiB l'/&3 


Sparrman 1785 

His servants 

Mentzel 1787 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Le Vaillant 1790 


Thunberg 1793 


Percival 1804 


Alexander 1838 



Baines 1842-53 


Chapman 1849-63 



Fritsch 1872 


Dunn 1872-3 



Dunn 1872-3 

As above. 

and Orange R. 

Olpp 1888 


Von Francois 1896 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Schultze 1907 


Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Theal 1919 


Schapera 1930 


Engelbrecht 1936 


Engelbrecht 1936 


rem, ill.-. 

Charcoal, 'indent it with their fingers' 

Charcoal, in patches 

Soot, e.g. 'Black Captain' 


Charcoal stick, against danger 

Soot, patterns scratched with nails 

'Black', patterns scratched with nails 


Soot; and hands 


'Black stuf and sheep fat 

Soot, also on clothing; sign of wealth 

Ash on mourners, after sprinkling with urine 

Ash on mourners, after urinating on them 

Soot, in patches 

Soot, in spots 

Soot, charcoal, 'thousand ways' 

Soot and ochre on upper lip 

'Various figures of brown and black p.iml 

when visited by strangers - 

Soot or ash 

Soot, 'odd-looking streaks' 

Charcoal, blended with red salve on face 
Charcoal on cheeks and eyebrows 

Ash from plants, against cold and 

'other things' 

( luiruml. with red over it 

Charcoal, for festivals 

Ash in boy's cuts 

Soot and charcoal 

Charcoal and gum for beads 

Pot-black, line m.idc on sumiadi of mourne 

Pot-black, mark under each eye of widow 

Also against weather and vermin 

Ash in cuts 

Charcoal, animal glands for closing 

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patterns were made on their faces (Dunn 1872-3). Yellow and brown fungi 
(possibly the spores) were mixed with fat for a facial and body paint (Westphal 
1906); the brown (edible) mushroom growing on antheaps was probably the 
gasteromycete Podaxis pistillaris (J. P. Rourke 1970 pers. comm.) commonly 
found on antheaps in the summer rainfall areas of South Africa. Pisolithus 
tinctorius might also have been used (O. Leistner, Botanical Research Institute, 
Pretoria, 1970 pers. comm.). 

Animal skins tanned with 'wag-'n-bietjie' {Acacia mellifera detinens) bark 
became tan coloured (Engelbrecht 1936). The root of the elandsboontjie 
{Elephantorrhiza elephantina), widespread over southern Africa, was also used 
for tanning skins, which became red. This is the same plant that Peringuey called 
by a previous name, E. burchelli. The tannin content is low, about 21 per cent in 
air-dried material; there are nine species which occur only in Africa south of the 
Equator, some of which are poorly known; all may have tanning properties (see 
Burtt Davy 1932; Ross 1975). Palmer & Pitman (1972: 270) noted that the bark 
and pods of E. burkei are rich in tannin. 

Nama. The women made aromatic paints and powders from lichens and 
used a 'kind of saffron' — Chapman (1849-63) did not say whether the latter was 
a pigment or perfume or both. Coetse (1760) mentioned a wood in South West 
Africa with a beautiful bright red colour, which Mossop (1935) identified as 
Acacia haematoxylon. The heart-wood of A. giraffe (now A. erioloba) is also 
red, while the outer wood is yellowish brown (J. P. Rourke 1979 pers. comm.). 
According to some reports, red wood was used as buchu (Wikar 1779). The 'red 
tannic juice' of 'Acacia giraffe' was sometimes substituted for red ochre, accord- 
ing to Hahn (1881), while Schultze (1907) wrote that a red powder from this 
wood ('camel-thorn') was used to make masks and patterns on fat-besmeared 
faces, and a black powder, similarly used, was made from 'roasted pelargonium 
stems'. The yellow spores of a fungus were used as a pigment and as buchu 
(perfume) on the body (Schultze 1907) (see also Kora above). The soaked red 
bark of Acacia horrida (now A. karroo) was used for tanning and colouring skins 
(Schultze 1907; Schapera 1930). 

Miscellaneous pigments 

In various references to pigments used on the body, neither colours nor 
origins of the pigments were given (Table 18). Considering their widespread use, 
haematite and other earth pigments were probably included among these, e.g. 
the 'diverse colours' used on faces (Davys in 1595); the 'heart of certain rocks' 
(Tachard in 1685); the 'divers coloured earths' (Ten Rhyne 1686) used in the 
interior on hair and, with fat, on faces; the 'various pigments' that women at the 
Cape used (De Grevenbroek 1695); and the 'workings of red and white chalk' 
(Valentyn 1726). Theal (1919) wrote that the Hottentot men and women 
covered themselves with fat and 'clay' against the cold and vermin — the clay 
might have been red ochre, but this sounds like vague plagiarism. Dornan (1925) 
also remarked that fat and 'clay' were used against the cold. 
























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Tappen (in 1682) saw red paint on women's faces — it might have been 
haematite. The various red paints that were used as remedies mentioned by 
Laidler (1928) possibly included haematite as well as plant substances. 

Leguat (in 1698) gave no more information than that the greasy hair was 
'powdered with dust' — it must have been an earth pigment. Smith (c. 1833) 
noted that paints and powders were kept in tortoise-shells. 

Thunberg (1793) saw 'various figures of brown and black paint' on faces — 
the black paint was possibly soot or charcoal, but the brown cannot be identified 
from the information, nor is there any way of knowing what Saartjie Baardman 
(c. 1816), or the women in Baines's (Fig. 5) or Steeb's (Fig. 6) pictures smeared 
on their faces. So, too, will the 'blue clay' on the faces of 'Namaqua' women 
remain a mystery (Borcherds 1861). Wikar (1779) gave no further information 
about the paints that were used, perhaps ritually, on the heads of dead animals. 

The yellow or tan powder with a pleasant smell, used at the Cape (De 
Flacourt in 1648), was probably vegetable matter. 

In Bethany, Orange Free State, fine quartz was used on a Kora male initiate 
(Wuras c. 1858), and the 'ground white stone' that the Nama used for a female 
initiate (Hoernle 1918) might have been quartz, but there was no indication that 
it had been mixed with fat. These, and Valentyn's reference to workings of 'red 
and white chalk' were the only references to white pigments that were found. 

Detail from drawing by Thomas Baines of 'Namaqua' women with patterns painted on 
their faces (from Chapman 1849-63). 



Fig. 6. A water-colour picture by Steeb (1812) of a Hottentot 

woman who has two broad, painted red lines across her cheeks 

(Fehr Collection, Rust en Vreugd, Cape Town). 

At the end of the last century some Nama women used commercial paints 
and washing blue to make patterns on their faces (Von Francois 1896). 

Perhaps the most unusual among the miscellaneous pigments was the 
hyraxeum that the Nama women mixed with water for a dark-brown paint that 
was applied to a face smeared with fat (Schultze 1907). 


Buchu was the general term for all aromatic powders that the Hottentots 
used on their bodies. Schultze (1907) recorded some of the ingredients that were 
used, mainly plant materials. These powders were usually kept in a tortoise- 
shell. Because some served as pigments as well as perfumes (see above), and 
because buchu was used with other substances that were sometimes ingredients 
of paints, as many references as possible were investigated. 

Buchu (Table 19) was used by all the Hottentot groups or tribes. It served 
mainly as an everyday cosmetic or deodorant, usually applied to the body or 


armpits, but also to the hair at times. Apparently the women used buchu more 
than did the men, but the men also made considerable use of it. Some travellers 
noted that it was a form of protection for the skin when used with fat. 
Sometimes it was mixed with fat. One reference was found where buchu was 
used on the face (Mentzel 1787), but this seems to have been unusual. 

Schapera (1933: 115) maintained that buchu was always ground to a powder 
and never burnt, but according to Schultze (1907), the dried plants were lightly 
roasted over a fire before being powdered; Ten Rhyne (1686) wrote that the 'ash 
of burnt herbs' was sprinkled on the head; among the Nama, clothing was 
perfumed by heating powdered quartz (Schultze 1907). 

Buchu was in general use in rituals and medicinally, and was sometimes 
endowed with magical properties. There were various exceptional uses and 
ingredients — they are summarized below area by area. 

At the Cape. Women used buchu and ochre in a ritual offering; a bridal 
couple had it sprinkled on their fat-besmeared bodies and clothing, and it was 
used by all those present; after childbirth the parents were sprinkled with buchu, 
here, too, used with fat; a male initiate was similarly treated; at a funeral the 
heir wore the buchu-strewn intestines of a sheep round his neck; a tortoise-shell 
containing buchu was placed on graves. Buchu could be used as a scent, charm, 
and disinfectant; a convalescent who had been treated with leaves, water, and 
fat was sprinkled with buchu and so was his 'blanket'; a new-born baby was 
smeared with fat and sprinkled with buchu; and buchu was thought to cure 

'Namaqua.' Among the 'Little Namaqua', the fat of a cow or sheep was 
sprinkled with buchu and hung round the neck of a bride (Schapera 1930 
quoting Wikar). The red buchu (see also plant pigments) that Wikar saw a 
Bushwoman sprinkling on a 'Namaqua' man might have been used by both 
groups. The 'Namaqua' had aromatic paints and powders made from lichens (it 
is not clear whether Chapman (1849-63) meant the people north or south of the 
Orange River); in Namaqualand buchu was strewn on corpses and graves; at the 
Orange River mouth buchu was mixed with fat to make a perfumed ointment 
(Paterson 1790). 

Gona. The Gona used a powdered, scented red plant root (see also plant 
pigments) with fat, preferably sheep's tail-fat (Le Vaillant 1790). 

Along the Orange River. The 'Namnykoa' sprinkled buchu on the painted 
heads of dead animals; Wikar (1779) did not give a reason for this practice, 
which was the only one of its kind found in the literature. Buchu was sprinkled 
on the armpits of a suitor, possibly as a deodorant as well as a perfume. The 
'Eynikkoas', also on the Orange River, wore a scented fungus on the chest and 
its spores were dispersed over the body (see also plant pigments). 

Kora. In the Orange Free State, buchu was sprinkled on the greasy face of a 
Kora male initiate (Mentzel recorded such use at the Cape but for everyday 
purposes). The Kora used fat and ochre with buchu on their bodies, and herbs 
(buchu?) and fat were mixed to use for magical purposes and as a medicine. 

Table 19 
3uchu used by the Hottentots. 

I! I 

De Flacourt 1648 


Ten Rhyne 1686 


Witsen 1691 


De Orevenbroek 



De Grevenbroek 


De Grevenbroek 



De Grevenbroek 


Kolb 1731 


Kolb 1731 


Kolb 1731 


Allamand & 


Klockner 1778 

Allamand & 



Wikar 1779 


Wikar 1779 


Wikar 1779 


Sparrman 1785 


Mentzel 1787 


Mentzel 1787 

Mentzel 1787 

Le Vaillant 1790 


Paterson 1790 

Orange R. i 

Thunberg 1790 


Thunberg 1790 

P r<"v;,l 18< " 

°™"" L 

Burchell 1822-4 


Smith c. 1833 

Alexander 1838 


Chapman 1849-63 


1849-63 Namaqu 



Fritsch 1872 
Fritsch 1872 
Fritsch 1872 
Fritsch 1872 
Von Francois 1 
Von Francois 1 
Schultze 1907 

General (Nama?) 
General (Nama'!) 
General (Nama?) 

Schultze 1907 
Schultze 1907 


Schultze 1907 
Biden & Kling 

Fischer 1913 
Hoernle 1918 
Hoernle 1918 


Nama, S.W.A. 
Nama, S.W.A. 

Hoernle 1918 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Hoernle 1918 
Theal 1919 
Dornan 1925 
Laidler 1928 

Nama, S.W.A. 


Vedder 1928 

Nama, S.W.A. 

Schapera 1930 
Schapera 1930 


Little Namaqua 

S^cet-Miiulling herbs 
Burnt herbs, 'bouchou' 
And ochre, on head of deity 
Bride and groom, marriage 

Marriages and ce 
all; couple after 
Used regularly 
Bride and groom 

On intestines 

sprinkled it on 

With soot, initiate 
Scented red root powdered 
Perfumed ointment 

Kept in tortoise-shell 

from lichens 

On skin garments 

>n clothing 

Roasted plants, fine quar 

With i 

Heated on sto 


On babies' bin 

On garments ( 
On corpses an 

:ns. fungus 

I graves 

Kept in tortoise-shell 

Girl initiate rubs buc 
testicles of young boys 
Girl initif 

With mother's milk for t 
From a variety of shrubs. 

On fat of cow or sheep hung 
round neck of bride (quoting 

Engelbrecht 1936 Kora 


Nama. There are many references to buchu having been used by the Nama 
of South West Africa as a cosmetic and deodorant. In addition, it was used by 
men on their faces with 'red', and on their clothing; buchu was heated on hot 
stones for the scent to penetrate clothing, and it was rubbed on babies' blankets 
and on garments of the dead. When mixed with fine powdered quartz, women 
used it all over their bodies, men on their armpits and necks; this powdered 
quartz was heated to perfume clothing. The head of a mushroom was hung on a 
thread round the neck and the yellow spores were allowed to disperse over the 
body; the rest of the mushroom was dried and powdered. Buchu was rubbed on 
a girl initiate, and she rubbed it on the testicles of young boys as a ritual 
medicine, and threw it over men and boys. Buchu was sprinkled on a grave. 

Coloured buchu 

Some kinds had a definite colour, such as the red wood mentioned by Wikar 
and Coetse (although the latter did not state its use), the red root of the Gona, 
the spores of a white, scented fungus of the 'Eynikkoas', and the yellow fungus 
about which Schultze wrote. Westphal also noted a yellow and a brown fungus 
that were mixed with fat for body and facial paint. These must have been 
selected for their colour as well as their scent and can also be regarded as 
pigments (see plant pigments above). 


In Table 20 the information on the painting of facial and body patterns is set 
out. Instances where a nose or upper lip only, etc., was decorated are not 
included here, but cases where colour was applied in patches or spots are 
included, as well as masks. 

The practice of painting patterns on faces was common among all Hottentot 
groups (Figs. 5-8). It was done mainly by the women for everyday cosmetic 
purposes, red ochre having been the most widely used pigment. Among the 
men, who used soot, such use was rare and apparently confined to the Cape; 
according to Cortemunde, men used red ochre and fat on their faces and 
scratched patterns in the paint with their finger-nails. Von Francois noted in 
1896 that the Nama men did not use facial paint. 

References to facial patterns for ritual purposes were few, but early 
travellers were seldom likely to have been present at ceremonies: Hottentots at 
the Cape made patterns for rituals, using red ochre (sex unspecified); Nama 
women used red ochre and powdered white stone; Kora men used potblack. 

In the last century Kora men and women still decorated their faces with 
various paints ior festivals. 

Body patterns were rarely mentioned in the literature: it is not clear whether 
Le Vaillant included the Gona in the Hottentot 'practice of painting their bodies 
in a thousand different ways'; there was one reference to Hottentots at the Cape 
painting their greasy bodies as well as faces with soot in which patterns were 
then made with finger-nails (Schreyer 1668). 



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Fig. 7. Detail from a 'Nimiquas' dance, showing women with painted faces (from Paterson 


The Nama women also painted facial masks with plant pigments; in other 
instances where paint was applied round eyes, nose and mouth, this could have 
been meant for masks. 

The methods that were used for making patterns varied: there were two 
references (Schouten 1665; Vogel 1679 — apparently a plagiarism) to a red stone 
that seemed to have been used as a crayon; usually the pigment (on a greasy 
face) or paint was applied with the fingers in spots, stripes, etc; the entire face 
could be smeared and wiped clean in places (Orange River — Wikar 1779; 
Nama — Schultze 1907); or patterns were scratched in the paint with the finger- 
nails (Cape — Schreyer 1668) or fingers (Cape — Herbert in 1627). 

No reasons were given for this painting of patterns other than for cosmetic 


In historical times all the Hottentot groups made use of pigments and 
paints, almost exclusively for personal adornment, often in rituals. 




Fig. 8. 'Dansende inboorlingen'; detail from Gordon Collection No. 89 showing Hottentot 
women with painted faces (from Forbes 1965). 

Haematite was the chief pigment, mainly the clayey form, red ochre. 
Specularite, the metallic form, was used by some, but not all, Kora groups also 
in their hair, and similarly, perhaps by some Cape 'Namaqua\ but apparently 
not by other groups. Haematite was occasionally used as a crayon, often as a 
powder on greased bodies and faces. A paint for cosmetic use was made with 
powdered haematite and the binder or medium was always animal fat, usually 
rendered but sometimes raw. Other earth pigments were also used. There was 
no evidence that fat for paints was heated. Women were the main users of 
cosmetic paints, both for everyday life and rituals; men used paints to a much 
lesser extent, mainly ritually. 

Pots, and sometimes clothing, were coloured with red ochre. 

Powdered white quartz or stone was used in some Kora and Nama rituals. 
There were similarities in Kora and Nama practices. 

Charcoal and soot or potblack were used by all Hottentot groups, generally 
mixed with or used with fat, as a facial or body paint, occasionally for ritual 


purposes too. The custom in early historical times of smearing the entire body, 
and sometimes garments, black did not appear to have existed beyond the Cape, 
where it seems to have been mainly a male custom. 

Plant pigments were obtained from wood, roots, lichens, and fungi, and 
were mainly red or yellow, but also purple; they were used as coloured, scented 
powders (buchu) on greased bodies and occasionally on faces, or were mixed 
with fat for a scented cosmetic paint. The only other medium, if one could call it 
that, used with plant pigments was the water in which coloured woods were 
soaked for tanning and colouring skins. 

Hyraxeum (' dassiepis ') and water was a facial paint used by Nama women in 
South West Africa — this was the only instance found where water was a medium 
for paint. 

Untraditional cosmetics such as 'blue clay' ('Namaqua' women), commercial 
oil paints, and washing blue (Nama women) for faces were exceptional. 

Patterns and masks were painted on faces by all groups, mainly by women 
for cosmetic purposes, occasionally by men, or were sometimes made for ritual 
purposes by both sexes. Body patterns were rarely recorded, and such refer- 
ences were to the Cape Hottentots and the Gona. 

The reasons for body paints were mainly cosmetic, for protecting the skin, 
for ritual purposes (the actual reasons for which are largely unknown), and for 
magic or magic medicines, particularly with red paints that were said to 
symbolize blood. 

Sacred stones were painted with red paint, including ochre, thought to 
represent blood; the painters were said to be Nama women. 

There was no evidence that suggested media such as urine (excluding 
hyraxeum), blood, stomach liquid, milk, eggs, plant sap, gum, or honey were 
used as media with pigments for making paints. 

The media for paints that the historical Hottentots used were fat and, with 
hyraxeum, water. 


W. Lodewijckz in 1595 

In his account of the expedition in command of Cornelis de Houtman, is mentioned that 
near Agulhas the natives 'always stank greatly since they besmeared themselves with fat and 
grease' (Raven-Hart 1967: 16). 

J. Davys in 1598 

His narrative of the De Houtman expedition mentioned that the 'natives' at Saldanha, who 
had cattle and sheep with 'exceeding great tails only of fat', 'paint their face with divers colours' 
(Raven-Hart 1967: 20). 

J. Pieterszoon van Enkhuizen in 1604 

At Mossel Bay the people, who had sheep with very fat tails and also many oxen, 'smeared 
their bodies so that they stank disgustingly' (Raven-Hart 1967: 29). 


C. Matelief in 1608 

He wrote of the native people at Table Bay: 'Because of their greasing they can be smelt 
fully a rood down-wind' (Raven-Hart 1967: 39). 


The inhabitants at the Cape of Good Hope, who had oxen and fat-tailed sheep, 'smeared 
themselves with grease and had greasy, black hair' (Raven-Hart 1967: 45). 

N. Downton in 1610, 1613, 1614, 1615, 1616 

On his first two visits to the Cape he sailed with Sir Henry Mlddleton. He wrote that the 
people at Saldanha, who had sheep and cattle, anointed 'their bodyes with a filthy substance 
which I suppose to be the Juice of Hearbes which on the bodyes sheweth like Cowe dung and 
the wooll of there heades is so baked like a scurfe of greene herbes' (Raven-Hart 1967: 48). His 
own fleet visited the Cape in 1614 (and again in the following two years), when the anonymous 
log recorded: 'They do besmere themselues with grease and dirte and other ilfauered things, so 
that they are very noysome to come neere vnto' (Raven-Hart 1967: 64). 

Sir Thomas Roe in 1615 

He sailed with the fleet commanded by Walter Peyton. The people at Saldanha, he wrote, 
rubbed 'their heads (curled like Negroos) with the dung of beasts and durte' (Raven-Hart 
1967: 77). 

E. Terry in 1616 

At Saldanha were people with sheep and cattle: 'Both sexes make coverings to their heads 
like to skull-caps, with cow-dung . . . mingled with a little stinking grease, with which they 
likewise besmear their faces, which makes their company insufferable, if they get the wind of 
you' (Raven-Hart 1967: 83). 

T. Herbert in 1627 

Of the natives at the Cape he wrote: 'They delight to dawbe and make their skin glister 
with grease and char-cole beat together, which when half dried, they then indent it with their 
fingers' (Raven-Hart 1967: 121-122). 

A. P. de Sampaio in 1630 

His ship was wrecked near the mouth of the Pisang River where natives, obviously 
Hottentots, were encountered; 'on the necks are hung some sinews [guts] of oxen; and with the 
dung of these they bathe all their bodies, and make themselves stink' (Raven-Hart 1967: 133). 

P. Mundy in 1634 

Hottentots boarded the ship in Table Bay: 'They went to the Cooke roome and there they 
fell fowle of the Tallowe Table, wherewith having first filled their bellies, they rubb their bodies 
and Skin Coveringe and some they carried away in Trombes' (sea bamboo) (Raven-Hart 
1967: 141). 

J. A. von Mandelslo in 1639 

The people at Table Bay 'gave off a nasty smell because they smear all their bodies with 
fish-oil, so that they shine from it'; and of the 'Sothanimen' he wrote: 'When the sea-farers buy 
any of their cattle, and kill them on the shore, they ask only for the entrails, which they eat 
there and then raw and warm, and uncleaned: it suffices for them to shake out only the largest 
of the dung, with which some of them smear their faces' (Raven-Hart 1967: 152). 

E. de Flacourt in 1648 

At Saldanha 'they grease their skin and powder their hair with a yellow powder or others 
with a tan-coloured powder or earth which smells rather pleasantly, or others again with the 
sweet-smelling herbs of the country somewhat roughly powdered. Both women and men daub 
their faces with charcoal, making patches on the nose, forehead, and cheeks' (Raven-Hart 
1967: 174). 


J. -B. Ta vernier in 1649 

At the Cape the herders smeared themselves 'with a grease which they prepare from 
various herbs known to them and', he was told, 'that if they are not smeared with it as soon as 
they are born, they would become dropsical like the other blacks of Africa' (Raven-Hart 
1967: 180). 

J. Hondius (1652) 

At Flesh Bay the natives were shorter and reddish-brown in contrast to those at the Cape, 
who were yellow. They blackened their faces with paint. Some cut or burnt themselves before 
rubbing fat or tallow into the skin. The natives at Table Bay also covered their persons with fat. 
(Note: the people at Flesh Bay could have been either Bushmen or Hottentots, but other 
voyagers had encountered Hottentots with cattle and sheep there, e.g. Paulus van Caerden in 
1601 (see De Kock 1953: 84)). 

J. van Riebeeck in 1651-62 

In his Journal (Moodie 1838) Van Riebeeck frequently referred to the use of grease by the 
Hottentots: on 1 and 2 March 1654 'a dead whale washed up on the sand' and on 3 March 1654 
the settlers 'would have made some oil from the whale but for want of casks . . . but the 
Hottentoos were eager for the blubber, burying several pieces of it in the sand'. On 6 March 
'these Hottentoos were busy melting oil from the blubber of the dead whale (which they 
preserved in the dried trombas (alga marina?) which is driven up on the beach about the Cape) 
with which they explained that they grease themselves and if they get bread from us, dip it in 
and thus eat'. On 7 April 1654, near the Fort was a 'whole encampment of inhabitants . . . and 
we embraced each other ... so that we again had a suit of clothes destroyed, from the 
greasiness of the oil and filth with which they, and in particular the greatest among them, had 
so besmeared themselves, that they shone like looking glasses in the sun, the fat trickling down 
from their heads and along their whole bodies, which appeared to be their greatest mark of 
distinction'. Other references to the use of^ grease by the Hottentots appeared on 31 October 
1658, 27 September 1660, 2 November 1660, 14 December 1660, and in his memorandum of 
1662 to Wagenaar. 

The Black Captain mentioned in the Journal was Gonnema, chief of the Cochoquas, so 
called because he smeared his body with soot (Thorn ed. in Van Riebeeck 1651-62 1: 371). 

An entry for 20 May 1654 reads: 'Yesterday a Hottentoo's wife was delivered of a child 
. . . without help of a woman or man . . . instantly smearing the child over with cow-dung, and 
thus making it black' (Moodie 1838). 

A cure for snake-bite was to place the affected foot in warm cow-dung (Moodie 1838: 93). 

On 10 September 1655, the inland expedition led by Corporal Willem Muller saw 
Hottentots slaughtering an animal and scooping out the blood with pots, apparently for later 

The Hottentots brought ostrich eggs to the Fort (Journal entries 2 October, 7 December, 
17 December 1653, and Proclamation of 12 October 1654 (Moodie 1838)) but their use by the 
Hottentots was not mentioned. 

The Hottentots kept milk in large hide bags — according to Goodwin (1952) this was 
mentioned in the Journal but the reference could not be traced. 

J. J. Merklein in 1653 

He wrote of the herders at the Cape: 'The fat of the guts they smear on their naked bodies, 
and hold it for ornament . . .' (Raven-Hart 1971: 8). 

J. Neuhof in 1654 

At the Cape 'both men and women who own much cattle smear very thickly, not only their 
bodies and faces but also their cloaks, making them heavy with grease; but those who have little 
cattle or none do not wear such cloaks. Thus these smearings are considered by them as a sign 
of richness in cattle, and as an adornment.' Their yellow-brown colour was from smearing 
themselves 'with a certain fat or grease, which they make from certain herbs known to them 
. . . until they are black. ... It is said that if they did not smear themselves . . . they would 
become dropsical. . . . When the Dutch ships arrive these Hottentots or Strandlopers make for 
the galley and the cooke's kettle, and smear the soot and black from this into their hair, mixed 


with fat, and around their head and face . . . which they think a great adornment. . . . Further 
they make grooves and cuts in their skin into which they rub fat or tallow as an adornment.' 
They drank the fat of stranded whales. (Raven-Hart 1971: 16-19). 

G. Heeck in 1655 

The herders at the Cape smeared their hair 'as also their whole body, with every sort of fat 
that they can get' (Raven-Hart 1971: 35). 

A. Herport in 1659 

At the Cape 'they smeared their hair with a certain cut up he*b, mixed together with lard 
and the fat of sheep and cows' (Raven-Hart 1971: 56). 

J. J. Saar in 1660 

At Table Bay 'their adornment is to smear their naked body with all sorts of fat, so that 
they stink very foully' (Raven-Hart 1971: 63). 

P. Meerhoff in 1661 

In his diary of the expedition during which the Namaquas were located, he gave a fine 
description of their kraals and dress, without mentioning that they used fat on themselves. He 
mentioned 'a large wooden vessel filled with milk . . . they also have calabashes ... in these, as 
well as in the wooden vessels, they collect their milk, and churn their butter' (in Moodie 
1838: 232, 233). 

Z. Wagenaar in 1662 

On 1 June 1662, in a despatch, he referred to 'the Namaquas, a different race from these 
greasy Hottentoos'. Elsewhere he referred to 'these greasy Africans, commonly called Hotten- 
toos' (in Moodie 1838: 256, 291). 

W. Schouten in 1665 

Hottentot Strandlopers at the Cape 'were accustomed to smear their dirty hides with the 
fat of slaughtered beasts, or the oil from dead whales which had been washed ashore'. 'These 
wild people make many strange antics, with singing, leaping and dancing, as also with continual 
hand-clapping. Meanwhile they sometimes turn their eyes to heaven, and then with a red stone 
write stripes and crosses on each other's foreheads' (Raven-Hart 1971: 84). 

V. Iversen in 1667, 1668 

The Hottentots at the Cape 'smear all their bodies with oil and the fat from the guts of 
slaughtered beasts in which the dung still remains, from which they give off a revolting smell'. 
Their skin cloaks 'they also smear with oil so that they stink nastily. They take the blubber of 
the dead whales which are washed ashore, and from this make the oil' (Raven-Hart 1971: 103). 

O. Dapper (1668) 

The Cape Hottentot men 'pluck out all the hair from the chin and paint or smear the face 
to make themselves black, which is held to be a great decoration amongst them. So too, they 
smear their bodies and faces with grease and fat.' ' "Strantlopers" or Hottentots living along the 
shore of the Cape, are accustomed to come to the ships of the Dutch ... to smear and streak 
themselves with grease and soot upon the cook's kettle . . . some have for decoration chipped 
their own skins with notches and cuts into which they put some fat or grease.' The Hottentot 
men and women smeared the outer sides of cloaks and caps soft with fat, a sign of wealth 
(p. 51). They ate the blubber of whales, sometimes sun-dried, and other 'sea monsters' washed 
up on the shore. 'They remove whole handfuls of the fat floating on top of the [ship's] meat 
kettle, and toss it into their mouths' (p. 57). They ate honey, wax and all. They drank water or 
the milk of their cattle (p. 57). 

J. Schreyer in 1668 

'Their plasters and salves are nothing but the fat of the beasts, wherewith they over- 
diligently smear the wound and all the body. . . . For internal sickness they use no remedy- 
other than the surgeon smears the sick person with fat. . . .' Fat was also a remedy in case of 


snake-bite. An amulet consisting of the burnt end of a piece of wood from a certain bush was 
used 'to help the sick regain their health and to turn away the weapons of the enemies ... if 
they fear danger they blacken their face with the burned end'. 

He was referring to the men (see Schreyer 1681: 33) when he wrote: 'After they have well 
smeared with fat their naturally short and curly hair, they strew it with the bark of a tree . . . 
also with a dried plant . . . ground small on a stone.' 

'They smear all their body with the fat from the sheep and over this the soot from kettles 
and pots; and with their finger-nails . . . they draw over the whole body strips like braiding 
which . . . ornament the body.' - 

The women's faces were 'coloured red or black and smeared with sheeps-fat, and covered 
with many stripes made with their finger-nails, so that thus the skin shows through the fat and 
the colour'. 

They slaughter an ox, 'then when all the blood has run together in the cavity of the belly, 
they scoop it out into pots, and this is for the women . . . when it has been warmed a little on 
the fire, and curdles, it is eaten without salt'. 

'The more greasily the mantle is smeared, the finer it is in their eyes.' 'Instead of 
table-napkins the men use their so-called mantles which they so greatly thus saturate with the 
fat of oxen. . . .' 

Dirty butter was made in a skin sack. 

Schreyer observed first one, the 'surgeon', then seven or eight males urinating on a male 
patient, from head to foot: 'The sick man went to sleep in his cloak, and the next day was fit to 
continue the journey with us.' (Raven-Hart 1971: 124-130.) 

A. van Overbeke in 1668 

At the Cape 'both men and women smear and anoint themselves with a certain kind of fat 
... to close the sweat-pores against the cold' (Raven-Hart 1971: 109). 

G. Vermeulen in 1668 

The inhabitants were Hottentots who' had cattle and sheep: 'They are very dirty and 
grubby in all ways, and give off a nasty stink because they smear their bodies with some smelly 
fat, and then blacken themselves with soot' (Raven-Hart 1971: 113). 

F. A. Bolling in 1670 

'Their skin is brownish, but they take the fat and the dung of animals and smear 
themselves with it, which makes them foul-looking and foul-stinking' (Raven-Hart 1971: 146). 

(When writing of hippos he says: 'Their blood is used by painters in the East Indies as 
colouring' ('farve') (Raven-Hart 1971: 149).) 

Grundel in 1670 

In 1670 the people on board the Grundel found cattle-owning natives, evidently Hotten- 
tots, at Sandwich Harbour on the west coast; their hair was smeared with fat (Vedder 1938: 8). 

J. P. CORTEMUNDE (1672) 

'In leather bags . . . they make butter and cheese [sour milk?] of the milk, which they are 
fond of eating with their friends. . . . The richer a Hottentot is in cattle, the more of a man he 
is, and the more he besmears his body with grease and ointments. ... He paints his face 
thickly with an ointment of grease and red stone, and with his nails he draws all kinds of 
patterns so that the skin shows through and makes him look far more like a devil than a human 

'The womenfolk . . . powder their curly hair . . . with herbs and manure from a cow so 
that it looks as if they wore a skullcap of dirt. They . . . put grease on their bodies.' 

J. C. Hoffmann in 1672 

The Hottentots at the Cape were 'by the daily smearing with grease made so repulsive . . . 
the hair inextricably matted by their horrible greasing' (Raven-Hart 1971: 161). 

C. Schweitzer in 1676 

'They wear ... a sheeps-skin or calf-skin on their shoulders (and that's besmeared with 
grease to make it soft and pliant)' (Raven-Hart 1971: 183). 


G. Meister in 1677, 1688 

(Much of Meister's information about the Hottentots was taken from Schreyer.) 

A cosmetic of the Strandlopers 'consists of sheep's dung mixed with soot, and with it they 
smear themselves and their children thoroughly' (Raven-Hart 1971: 202). 

After his visit in 1688 he remarked that 'the richest among them . . . has the greasiest, 
foulest skin on his body', and commented on the dung of the guts 'wherewith some are 
accustomed to smear or paint their face and body'. 

An ox was cut open while still alive, 'and when the blood has run together in the body they 
take mussels or pieces of broken pots and scoop it out into skins and pots, this being the best 
part of the women's share . . . they set it on the fire, and let it thus get warm and coagulate, 
and eat it without salt or lard'. 

'When the full moon appears they smear their black-baked skin with soot and fish-oil 
thinking themselves the better as they are the greasier.' On the ship 'a marvel was to be seen 
how they painted themselves and smeared themselves with soot and fat from the pots in the 

They dance by the full moon, and for a marriage 'they have painted their faces with red 
earth and fat that it is disgusting to see'. 

Butter was made in a skin bag. (Raven-Hart 1971: 346-350.) 

J. W. Vogel in 1679 

'They have been found in dark and gloomy caves, where with hand-clapping they murmer 
something . . . turning their eyes to heaven, and with a red stone making crosses on one 
another's brows. . . . They smear themselves with nasty, stinking fat over the whole body from 
head to foot, not omitting their skin cloaks.' 'They go to the cook in the galley, and ask him for 
grease' which is smeared over the body as well as soot from the kettle (Raven-Hart 1971: 218— 

(Vogel's remarks have a familiar ring to them, especially the first sentence, which seems to 
have been taken from Schouten.) 

C. Fryke in 1681, 1685 

The Hottentots 'used to besmear their bodies with all manner of dirt and nastiness which 
makes them stink worse than a Goat'. After his visit in 1685, he observed that the Hottentots 
living on Lion's Head 'had squeezed the dung out of the guts and smeared it with their hands 
over one another' (Raven-Hart 1971: 234, 259). 

D. Tappen in 1682 

'Their hair is quite curly, but all matted because they smear much fat and soot on it. . . . 
They can more easily be smelt than seen, since they wear all sorts of clean and unclean fats in 
their hair and soot with it.' He remarked specifically on the men's hair 'matted with grease and 

Many of the women 'smear the upper part of the nose with red colour'. 

Milk was shaken in a skin bag to make butter. (Raven-Hart 1971: 237-241.) 

S. van der Stel in 1684, 1685-6 

In a Proclamation (22 September 1684) he wrote with displeasure about the illegal 
bartering with Hottentots, including bartering with ostrich eggs (but he did not refer to their 
use by the Hottentots). In the diary of the journey to the 'Amaquas Land' of 1685, the 
'Grigriqua' method of slaughtering was described: 'A man cut open the belly, and putting in his 
hand drew out the bowels while the sheep was still alive. . . . The reason why they do not cut 
the throats of the cattle they slaughter is to preserve the blood, which they collect, boil, and 
then eat . . .; nothing is thrown away, except the contents of the bowels' (in Moodie 1838: 393, 

'These Amaquas had a certain gum, obtained from trees, also some glittering sand which 
was judged to be of a mineral character' (Van der Stel 1685-6, Waterhouse ed.: 133). 

C. de Chaumont in 1685 

At the Cape 'the natives . . . possess cattle in large numbers, and sheep and pigs. They 
scarcely ever eat these animals, for they nourish themselves almost entirely on milk and butter 
which they make and preserve in the skins of sheep' (Raven-Hart 1971: 297). 


F. -T. de Choisy in 1685 

The Hottentots at the Cape, some thirty families, put grease in their hair (Raven-Hart 
1971: 269). 

C. de Forbin in 1685 

At the Cape 'they rub their bodies with fat, which makes them disgusting but very supple 
and good in all sorts of leaping' (Raven-Hart 1971: 264). 

G. Tachard in 1685 

He wrote of the Hottentots at the Cape: 'Their clothing is only plain sheepskins with the 
wool, dressed with cow-dung and a certain grease which makes them insufferable to sight and 
smell.' 'When they wish to adorn themselves they rub their heads, faces and hands with the soot 
from the cooking-pots, and when they have none of this, they have recourse to a certain black 
grease . . . and from this it results that their hair is reduced to little tufts.' 

He said of the Namaqua found on Van der Stel's inland journey: 'Among them some are 
found as white as Europeans, but they blacken themselves with grease and a certain stone 
powdered, with which they rub their face and all their bodies.' 'The women are by nature very 
white, but in order to please their husbands they blacken themselves as do these.' 'This tribe 
greatly esteem a certain substance found only in the heart of certain rocks, pretty hard and very 
dark in colour: experience has taught them that this mineral has a miraculous effect in 
delivering women in difficult childbirth, and in similarly aiding their cows, ewes and goats. . . . 
When the Dutch blew up a large rock in which there was much of this, and took it away, they 
showed as much regret and complaining as if a great treasure had been taken from them.' 
(Raven-Hart 1971: 286-287, 291-292.) 

A. Cowley in 1686 

Some Hottentots lived in huts near (Cape) Town: 'Their apparel is a Sheep's Skin . . . over 
their Shoulders, with a Leathern Cap upon their Heads, as full of Grease as it can hold; their 
Legs are wound about with the Guts of Beasts (from the Ankle to the Knees) well greased.' 
They 'are born White but make themselves Black with Sut, and besmear their Bodies all over' 
(Raven-Hart 1971: 309). 

W. ten Rhyne (1686) 

The Hottentots of the interior 'think themselves never so finely adorned as when they 
sprinkle divers coloured earths upon their hair, or rub them, mixed with fat, upon their faces. 
For in this region there is a mountain that produces colours.' They smeared their bodies with 
animal fat, especially their heads, 'sprinkling also on their heads the ash of burnt herbs, which 
they call in the vernacular "bouchou"'. The Hottentots smeared their heads with butter. 
Anointing with fat was one of the only remedies. Sheep or cow fat was used for bruises or 
rheumatism. They drank the milk of cows or sheep. Their pots were smeared all over with a red 
colouring matter (pp. 113, 115, 129, 149, 151, 153). 

S. de la Loubere in 1687 

Hottentots 'are born white as Spaniards' but 'are very black only because they grease their 
body and face. They also grease their hair, and can be smelt at twenty paces if they are 
up-wind.' 'They take off the fat (from pots and kettles) by handfulls and anoint themselves 
from head to foot. The grease protects them from the air and sun and makes them healthy and 
fit.' 'Their women grease themselves as they do' and have 'greasy hair' (Raven-Hart 1971: 319). 

Dr 'Browne' in 1691 

'To them that are verrie ill they give sometimes a draught of fat of sheep melted. 
Externalie they make great use of the same fat, and sometimes make it with green herbs.' He 
saw a woman 'annointing a man's bellie who appeared by his countenance to bee sick, with a 
green oyntment warmed in a shell . . . their woolie pait they dab with a past made of sheeps fat 
and some black stuf . . .' (Raven-Hart 1971: 388). 


W. Dampier in 1691 

The Hottentots 'besmear themselves all over with Grease, as well to keep their Joints 
supple as to fence their half naked Bodies from the Air by stopping up their Pores. To do this 
the more effectually they rub Soot over the greased parts, especially their Faces, which adds to 
their natural Beauty, as Painting does in Europe' (Raven-Hart 1971: 383) 

N. Witsen in 1691 (see Hahn 1881) 

J. Ovington in 1693 

'The Hair of their Heads, and of all their Bodies are besmeared with Kitchin-Grease. . . . 
They anoint their Bodies to render their Nerves supple and active and to fortifie the Pores 
against the violence of the ambient Air' (Raven-Hart 1971: 395). 

C. Langhansz in 1694 

(Langhansz copied Meister who copied Schreyer.) 

'By frequent and excessive smearing they make themselves black and stinking.' 'By the 
so-much smearing they become . . . agile.' On ships they 'beg the cook for grease or fat, 
however black and stinking it may be, and smear and anoint themselves . . . with this from top 
to toe'. 

'When a woman has given birth to a child she goes at once to the water . . . and washes 
herself.' Babies are smeared from birth. (Raven-Hart 1971: 404-406.) 

J. D. de Grevenbroek (1695) 

(De Grevenbroek stayed at the Cape from 1684 for about 40 years. It is likely that Kolb 
made use of his manuscript or notes (Schapera ed. 1933).) 

At a Hottentot wedding 'a priest, diviner, or fiamen assumes the office of anointer and 
smeart the newly-wedded pair . . . with animal fat warmed and melted in the heart of the fire. 
Their garments are smeared in the same way.' He then sprinkled powdered 'bochu' over them 
(p. 201). 

When a Hottentot man was ill, one of the remedies was the sacrifice of a cow; the blood 
of the cow, caught in 'a pot, or dish, or tortoise-shell', was used to wash the patient's face 
(p. 241). He was also anointed with fat or marrow 'extracted ... by the heat of the fire' 
(p. 243). 

'They rub their limbs with any sort of fat ... anointing themselves copiously as a 
protection against the danger of sun, cold or disease. The noisome stench ... is to be ascribed 
... to a plant called Bochu.' It is powdered and they 'sprinkle or rub it on their heads as a 
sweet fumigatory, potent charm, or disinfectant scent' (p. 263). 

He described the Hottentot way of milking. Butter was made in a skin bag (p. 247) and 
'when a chief dies ... no one among them throughout that circling year will anoint himself with 
the smallest piece of butter or fat' (p. 259). Schapera (1930: 240) quoted Grevenbroek as saying 
it was 'unlawful' for Hottentots to taste butter and eggs. 

Men would urinate on a male patient, or he would drink a mixture of urine and herbs. 
Women's urine was not used; sometimes a man would urinate on the legs of a woman who was 
ill. She would also be splashed with a mixture of warm water and cow-dung. A convalescent 
was rubbed all over by the 'priest' with 'green leaves like our willows, and with a smell like 
apple skin'. Afterwards he was washed in warm, then cold, water, smeared with the fat of a 
sacrificial animal, and then with buchu. His blanket was rubbed with fat and sprinkled with 
buchu (p. 243). A man's wounds were washed with his own boiled urine (p. 247). The hut and 
belongings of a dead man were burnt but arms and incombustible utensils were 'purged in 
men's urine' (p. 259). 'Immediately on their return from a funeral they wash themselves in a 
neighbouring stream or pool. Then they all sit in a circle on the floor of a hut and the eldest 
among them makes water on them as a lustral bath. Then, as a special sacrifice, a sheep or ox is 
slain, and, removing whatever they find in its stomach or bowels, the superstitious creatures 
sprinkle themselves, their cattle, and the hut with it' (p. 261). 

According to Schapera (1930: 265) Grevenbroek noted that after a period of seclusion of 
about 8 days, a new mother was ceremonially washed all over with warm water in winter, cold 
in summer. 

The women smeared themselves with 'various decorative pigments' (p. 255). When making 
pottery the wet pot was 'smeared all over with a red colouring matter rather like minium' [red 
lead, vermilion] (p. 253). 


F. Leguat in 1698 

'They are born very Tawny, but they quickly besmear themselves with Soot and Grease, or 
some sort of Oil, that they become Black as Jet. . . . Their hair is all frizled, greasie and 
powdered with Dust . . .' (Raven-Hart 1971: 433). 

M. Wintergerst in 1699 

Hottentots are black-skinned and have the custom of smearing themselves with everything 
fat (Raven-Hart 1971: 463). 

A. Bogaert in 1702 

The men 'all wear a sheepskin dressed with cow-dung and a certain black fat of an 
unbearable stink. . . . For adornment both men and women grease their heads, faces and hands 
with the soot from the cooking-pots' or 'with a stinking, black fat by which smearing the hair of 
their heads is matted into little balls. ... If they are rich in cattle, both men and women smear 
the outsides of their cloaks to make them greasy and soft.' 'They gulp down much oil'; 'they 
gulp down honey with the wax and all'; they drink milk (Raven-Hart 1971: 484-486). 

Commissionary Cnoll in 1710 

He recorded that at Houw Hoek they smeared their patients with warm, raw fat torn out of 
a living sheep (Schapera ed. 1933: 144). 

F. Valentyn (1726) 

He wrote about the 'Gregriqua' near present-day Vredendal: 'The reason why they do not 
cut the throats of the beasts which they slaughter, is to save the blood, which they carefully 
collect together, and boil up and eat' (1: 265). 

He remarked on their colour: 'They are not naturally thus, but alter themselves by making 
their children black from their youth up ... by smearing them with dirt that they change their 
looks. This they do only to protect their-health and protect their bodies from all infirmities 
coming from without' (2: 61). 

The young girls 'disfigure themselves with smearings and paintings'. 'When they are asked, 
why they smear their bodies with such stinking grease, they reply: for the same reasons why the 
Dutch women deck themselves out ... in order to please . . . men . . . and because the 
manners and customs of our land entail and demand it.' 'How disgustingly they are smeared 
. . . aboard the ships where they can thoroughly clean the cook's kettle by taking from it all the 
grease, soot and dirt' (2: 63). 

They have beads and ornaments 'hanging in their hair, or indeed plastered into the hair of 
their heads with grease or fat' (2: 65). 

'The richer they are in cattle, the more they smear their karosses or sheep-fleeces and 
head-coverings' (2: 67). 

'The workings here are of red and white chalk, various sorts of mixed earths' (2: 109). 

P. Kolb (1731) 

The Hottentot women at the Cape 'colour their foreheads, cheeks and chins with a red 
chalk-stone, easily found in the fields. This stone, among the Hottentot women, has the place 
of paints and washes among the multitudes of our own; and is judged to be the greatest 
heightener of beauty' (p. 151). The women painted their faces with 'a red stone . . . which is 
moistened by the grease which is upon them, they make spots, one over each eye, one upon the 
nose, one upon each cheek, and one upon the chin . . .' (p. 199). 

The Hottentots had the custom of 'besmearing their bodies and apparel with butter or 
sheep's fat, mixed with soot that gathers about their boiling pots'; it was a sign of wealth, the 
greater their wealth, the more of it they used (p. 49). 

Butter, made in a skin sack tossed between two people, was used 'either for anointing their 
bodies and krosses or for sale to the Europeans, for the Hottentots, unless in the service of 
Europeans, eat no butter' (p. 174). 

They did not use the fat of fish or whale 'which they abhor' (p. 50), although they ate fish 
(p. 51). 

Kolb mentioned Merklein, Vogel and Tachart who also mentioned fat but by way of 
adornment. 'Boving says they anoint themselves thus to make 'em agile and nimble of foot' 


(p. 51). Kolb suggested that fat was used also as a protection for the skin (p. 52). He wrote of 
the men's hair: 'But they load it from day to day with such a quantity of soot and fat, and it 
gathers so much dust and other filth, which they leave to clot and harden in it . . . that it looks 
like a crust or cap of black mortar' (p. 185). 

In male initiation he told of 'the youths beforehand being roundly bedaubed with fat and 
soot' (p. 121). 

After having been 'washed' with cow-dung and the juice of the Hottentot fig, the new-born 
child was smeared with fat or butter and powdered with buchu (p. 141); fat and buchu were 
used on their bodies by all for marriage and other ceremonies (p. 151); men and women 
powdered their bodies with buchu (p. 193); before meeting again after the birth of their child, 
the couple had to rub their bodies down with cow-dung, smear themselves with fat, and powder 
themselves with buchu (Kolb quoted in Schapera 1930: 262). 

According to Schapera (1930: 240) Kolb said that 'women were forbidden the pure blood 
of beasts', but Kolb (1705-1713) also wrote about Hottentots eating blood cooked with 
chopped, cleaned intestines — he did not state whether men or women. 

Kolb mentioned various occasions when urine was used in rites: old men urinated on a boy 
initiate, during funeral rites mourners were sprinkled with urine, strewn with ashes, and some 
near relatives smeared cow-dung on themselves (p. 315); urine was sprinkled on the bride and 
groom at a wedding, and on a successful hunter who had killed big game (Kolb quoted in 
Schapera 1930: 308). 

J. Coetse Jansz (1760) 

Coetse visited the 'Great Amacquas' north of the Orange River (in South West Africa). 
He found that they 'differ very little from other Hottentots except that in place of sheepskins 
they clothe themselves with the hides of jackals and do not smear themselves with fat (p. 285). 
(He wrote of large trees, 'the heart or innermost wood of which was of an unusually beautiful 
bright red colour (p. 289) (Acacia haematoxylon, or vaal kameeldoring according to Mossop ed. 
(1935)), but did not say whether this was used by the Hottentots who used plant materials for 
colouring matter (see e.g. Wikar 1779: 27).) 

J. Wallenberg in 1770 

'Some German travellers mention that at weddings and funerals their popes or high priests 
sprinkle those present with their own water, by way of unction; but this, I am told, is a fable' 
(quoted by Roberts 1947). 

R. J. Gordon in 1773-4, 1777-95 

A picture in the Gordon Collection (No. 89), 'Dansende inboorlingen' of a lively Hottentot 
dance shows three of the women with faces painted heavily round the eyes and on the cheeks, 
giving them the appearance of wearing masks (Forbes 1965, fig. 43) (see Fig. 8 herein). 

Gordon recorded the wetting with urine during the marriage rites, which he himself had 
not seen, and stated that the rite was also said to be performed at boys' puberty ceremonies 
(Forbes ed. 1975 1: 322). 

W. Paterson (1777-9) (see also Paterson 1790) 

In this publication a drawing (plate 33) of a 'Nimiquas' dance, in which the dancers hold 
brush-like objects (possibly jackal-tail switches such as those known to have been used by 
Hottentots), shows women with painted faces (Fig. 7 herein), but a very similar drawing 
(apparently by the same artist (plate 5)) of 'the Boschmens dance' with identical objects held 
aloft shows some of the women with similarly painted faces. 

R. S. Allamand & J. C. Klockner (1778) 

(These two authors relied heavily on the information of others.) 

A detailed description of the semi-castration ceremony of an 18-year-old Hottentot is 
given: the subject is first liberally smeared with fat, tied and held down while the 'priest' 
removes the left testicle and fills the cavity with fat mixed with medicinal herbs before closing 
the wound. The young man is untied, smeared thickly with heated fat of a slaughtered sheep 
which forms a layer on the skin as it cools. In this the 'operateur' makes furrows with his nails 
along the entire body and urinates thoroughly over it all. The young man is eventually left in a 


hut without other nourishment than the fat on his body — 'net vet, daar zyn geheele lichaam 
mede dedekt is, en dat hy kan afiikken, zoo hy lust heeft' (pp. 93-94). 

Kolb is quoted in describing another ceremony, the 'anders maaken' of a young man when 
he is initiated into the ranks of the men: the initiate is again smeared liberally with sheep fat, he 
is lectured by an elder who then urinates all over him, the initiate rubs it in, makes furrows in 
the layer of fat so that the urine can penetrate, and again closes the furrows by smearing 
(p. 108). 

In the marriage rites an ox is slaughtered, the men and women smear their bodies with fat 
and then sprinkle buchu over themselves. The 'priest' comes into the circle of men and urinates 
on the groom, who rubs it into the buchu and fat on his body. The same is done to the bride in 
the circle of women. He goes back and forth between them three times in this way (p. 113). 

After a funeral two old men go round a cirle of men and another of women to urinate on 
all; it is received willingly and respectfully. Ash from the hearth in the hut where the corpse lies 
is then sprinkled over the mourners who rub it in; some then rub their arms and legs with 
cow-dung (p. 119). The heir and closest relatives each slaughter a sheep. The intestines 
('darmvleis') of the sheep slaughtered by the heir are well powdered with buchu and hung 
round his neck to serve as mourning-dress. Close relatives also do this (p. 120). 

A Hottentot woman makes her face, breast and all exposed parts of her body shiny by 
rubbing with the tail of a sheep (pp. 101-102). 

In a separate section in the same publication (pp. 96-108), mention is made of the 
discovery of the 'waschboon': when boiled in water the berries gave off wax that could be used 
for making candles (apparently by the colonists — its use by the Hottentots is not mentioned). 

'Dassenpis' (hyraxeum) was used as a medicine by the Hottentots against all internal ills. 

C. F. Brink (1778) 

Brink accompanied Hop on his inland journey in 1762. A footnote in this edition (p. 6) 
mentions the 'Honigbergen' where the Hottentots collected honey for barter at the Cape. 

T. Roos & P. Marais (1778) 

They recorded on their journey of 1762 that the 'Namacquas' were accustomed to smearing 
their bodies with fat (p. 88). 

J. Wikar (1779) 

Wikar travelled along the Orange River in today's north-western Cape. He wrote of a 
Bushman woman who sprinkled powdered camel-thorn wood — red buchu — over a Namaqua 
man to get tobacco and dagga (p. 63). A Nama suitor was given scented buchu with which to 
powder himself and rub under his arms (p. 85). The women rubbed scented buchu under their 
arms (p. 89). 

During initiation a young 'Eynikkoa' man was cleaned with fat; an old man urinated on 
him from time to time during the course of three days; he was cleansed with the blood of an 
animal, then washed with water and rubbed with fat, and all his cattle were besprinkled with fat 
(p. 93). 

Schapera (1930: 306) quoted Wikar as writing that in the reception of a man into the ranks 
of the hunters, his face was smeared with potblack and wiped clean in a few places, leaving 
criss-cross designs. But Wikar actually wrote that the 'chief killer' of the beast in a hunt had his 
face 'blackened with soot from the pot and then cleaned in streaks like crosses, so it has a 
mottled appearance' (p. 111). 

The urine of a poison-drinker was used as an antidote for snake-bite (p. 135). The 
Hottentots used a worm, dried and powdered, with which to poison their arrow-heads; recovery 
from such a wound was only possible if the person was 'immediately given the urine of a 
poison-drinker' (p. 181). 

Among the 'Namnykoa' on Paarden Island, east of Aughrabies Falls on the Orange River, 
Wikar saw 'rhino, hippo and buffalo heads rubbed over with buchu and painted; they were 
lying under a tree in the middle of the open space of the kraal for show' (p. 123). Of this kraal 
he also wrote: 'At this kraal I acquired a stone which the Blicquoas bring there, and which the 
Namnykoa crush and rub with fat on their heads to make them shine. This stone resembles 
closely a kind of ore' (p. 125). 

'When there is anything wrong with a Hottentot ... the stomach is rubbed with as much 
force as if they meant to rub the fat right into it' (p. 185). 


The 'Eynikkoas' 'use chiefly the oil from seeds of the Koouw-tree instead of fat for rubbing 
themselves' ('Kauwboom, Papea schumanniana; P. capensis is known in the Eastern Province 
as "oliepitte" or "bergpruim"' (Mossop ed. 1935)). The berries are edible. The oil was 
extracted by roasting the seeds, crushing them, removing the pieces of outer shell and grinding 
the rest for 'a sweetly scented oil' (p. 189). 

The Namaquas drank the fat of sheep (p. 43). 

Some of the 'Eynikkoas' 'wear a fungus (growing at the bottom of the trunk of the 
hook-thorn tree, very sweet scented and regarded by them as a medicine for stimulating the 
heart) on their chests. It is white and covered with little knobs' (p. 189). 

A. Sparrman (1785) 

The Hottentots 'besmear their bodies most copiously with fat, in which there is mixed a 
little soot. This is never wiped off.' When 'their hands were besmeared with tar and pitch, they 
used to get it off very easily with cow-dung, at the same time rubbing their arms into the 
bargain up to the shoulders with this cosmetic'. The colonists 'seem to think . . . that a 
besmeared Hottentot looks less naked . . . and that the skin of a Hottentot ungreased seems to 
exhibit some defect in dress' (1: 183). 

'They likewise perfume them with a powder of herbs, with which they powder both their 
heads and bodies.' This consisted of 'various species of diosma, called by the Hottentots bucku 
and considered by them as possessing great virtues in curing disorders'. 'One particular sort, 
which I am told grows about Goud's-Rivier, is said to be so valuable, that no more than a 
thimble full of it is given in exchange for a lamb' (1: 184). 

Regarding the smearing of fat, etc., on their skins, Sparrman said that the Hottentots 'are 
by this means in a great measure defended from the influence of the air' (1: 184). 

Skin garments as well as caps were also well greased (1: 186). Women's cone-shaped caps 
were as 'black as soot mixed up with fat can make it' (1: 188). Leather for shoes was 'kept some 
hours in cow-dung, by which means it is rendered very soft and pliable. Afterwards some kind 
of grease is made use of for the same purpose' (1: 192). They sometimes greased their shoes a 
little (1: 193). 

The Hottentots never adorned their ears 'any more than the nose . . . this latter ... is 
sometimes by way of greater state marked with a black streak of soot, or, more rarely indeed, 
with a large spot of red-lead, of which on high days and holidays, they likewise put a little on 
their cheeks' (1: 189). (Red-lead is an incorrect translation, it is chalk in the original Swedish 
edition, see Sparrman 1785, Forbes ed.) 

'Dassen-piss ... is used by some people for medical purposes' (1: 309). 

'My host and hostess, who twenty years before had lived nearer to the Cape, viz. at Groot 
Vaders Bosch, told me they believed the report, that a master of ceremonies performed the 
matrimonial rites, by the immediate conspersion of the bride and bridegroom with his own 
water, was not without foundation.' Sparrman's own Hottentot servants would neither confirm 
nor deny this (1: 357). 

Gonaqua Hottentots rubbed their skin cloaks with 'a great quantity of grease . . . mixed up 
with bucku-powder' (2: 7). 

'The two or three first days after we had shot any game, several of them were particularly 
careful and diligent in skimming off the fat from the pot. Yet, however assiduous they were in 
besmearing their bodies with it, I was always obliged to exert my authority as their master, in 
order to make them put a little of it on my shoes and bridles which would otherwise have been 
cracked in pieces, or parched up by the draught of the weather' (2: 72). 

Sparrman wrote of some Hottentot men: 'On the same day on which they arrived at 
Bruntjes Hoogte where they expected to meet with a number of smart girls of their own nation, 
they painted their noses, their cheeks, and the middle of their foreheads, with soot' (2: 80). 

O. F. Mentzel (1787) 

'Their charms are not captivating . . . even if the women ornament and paint themselves in 
their way' (p. 264). The Hottentots 'try to produce the greatest beauty by besmearing 
themselves, first with cow-dung and afterwards with fat, soot and red earth' (p. 270). Thev 
'smear their whole body with cow-dung, let it dry in the sun, rub it off again, and then smear 
their body with fat, which sometimes smells still worse than dung'. 'Besides their body, they 
smear so much fat on their short woolly hair that it sticks together as if tarred' (p. 272). The 


woolly hair was 'thickly smeared and rubbed with fat and powdered with buchu' (p. 284). 'The 
Hottentots, and especially their womenfolk . . . adorn themselves with black soot from pots 
which they rub into their face with their hands ... to furbish and decorate themselves and be 
admired and praised by the others' (p. 273). 

Mentzel was told that besmearing 'is done for no other reason than to make their body and 
limbs supple and slim and keep them so' (p. 282). 

'They slaughter cattle to cure a patient with the fresh fat' (p. 267). 

Butter was made in a skin bag, not for eating but for greasing themselves (p. 292). 

The new-born child 'is smeared all over with fresh cow-dung' which generally drops off 
when it dries, 'the infant then being dry and entirely cleansed of impurities'. The child is then 
'thoroughly rubbed or rather washed with the juice squeezed from the Hottentot fig'. When dry 
'it is immediately and repeatedly rubbed with sheep's fat or with fat and butter, and bestrewn 
with buchu; this clings to the body like a bark and in their opinion is very beneficial to the 
child's health'; it 'protects the child against any external attacks of the air' (pp. 277-278). 

Leatherware was rubbed with fat (p. 284). 

'When a member of their family falls ill, they generally cut off a sheep's tail, melt out the 
fat, anoint themselves or the sick person with it . . .' (p. 292). 

'Buchu is a herb, which the botanists call Spiroea africana odorato, foliis pilosis [sic] and 
has a not unpleasant smell. The Hottentots gather it in summer . . . then they dry it completely 
and rub it to a fine powder in their hands' (p. 278). 

After the birth and the period of isolation the woman 'rubs her whole body with fresh 
cow-dung and cleans herself with it for cow-dung is the only means by which she can rid her 
body of all impurities. It removes entirely the fat from the old smearing, the itch of dust, buchu 
and soot so that a perfectly clean body results. They repeat the treatment with this remedy as 
often as they want to smear themselves again. When the cow-dung has dried and been rubbed 
off, she smears herself from head to heels with sheep-fat and strews buchu generously over it. 
She then usually adorns her face with so-called beauty spots . . . simply some soot, taken with 
the fingers from a black cooking-pot and rubbed especially round the nose, the buchu being the 
more generously strewn on the forehead' (pp. 279-280). 

At about 18 years the youths are initiated into manhood. 'This is accompanied by some 
ceremonies and a feast, the youth being well rubbed in with fat and soot, and sprinkled with 
buchu by the oldest inhabitant of the kraal.' 'The youth ... is not slow to scratch deep ruts in 
the ointment with his hands and nails across the length and breadth of his body ... the old man 
then . . . urinates all over him . . . and the youth busily rubs this costly balsam in . . .' (p. 281). 

'They use the same ceremony, called the "pisplechtigheid" by the Hollanders, when two 
persons wish to cohabit or get married' (p. 281). 

'When they slaughter an ox or a sheep' they 'cut open the living animal's stomach, take out 
one part of the intestines after the other and scoop out the blood with their hands . . .' (p. 273). 

The Hottentots drank sour milk or water or a mixture of the two (p. 291); they brewed a 
strong drink of honey, water and a root (p. 322). 

F. le Vaillant (1790) 

The 'Gonaqua Hottentot' women 'all shave very much and had been newly boughoued; 
that is to say, after rubbing their bodies with grease, they had besprinkled themselves with a 
kind of red powder, made of a root named in the country boughou, and which has a very 
agreeable odour. Their faces were all painted in a different manner' (p. 249). Le Vaillant called 
a 16-year-old girl 'Nerina'; 'when she had dressed in the morning ... she had rubbed grease 
and tallow over her cheeks . . . she was always attached to her villainous black grease' (p. 253). 
On another visit to their kraal, he found the women 'dressed in their richest attire, fresh 
greased and boughoued, and . . . their faces painted a hundred different ways' (p. 278). 

Elsewhere Le Vaillant remarked on the Hottentot 'practice of painting their bodies in a 
thousand different ways'. 'The two colours for which they shew the greatest fondness are red 
and black. The first is composed of a kind of ochry earth, which is found in several places in the 
country, and which they mix and dilute with grease. . . . Their black is nothing else than soot, 
or the charcoal of tender wood.' Some women painted not only 'the cheeks, but in general they 
daub over their whole body. These two colours ... are always perfumed with the powder of 
the bouchou . . . and the female Hottentot . . . never knows what it is to be oppressed by 
vapours, spasms, and the headache' (pp. 292-293). 


'The men never paint their faces, but I have often seen them use a preparation made of 
both colours mixed, to paint the upper lip as far as the nostrils.' Young girls sometimes applied 
the paint for their men (p. 293). 

The children had their bodies rubbed with 'mutton grease 1 and the men also used it to 
protect the skin against wind and sun (p. 295). 

When a skin was tanned, it was rubbed with 'mutton grease' (p. 305). 

The Gonaqua used pots for melting grease which was preserved in 'calibashes, bags made 
of sheep's skins or in bladders' (p. 311). 

The rendered tail fat of the Hottentot sheep 'is a kind of congealed oil which the 
Hottentots prefer to any other of their unctions, and for applying that powder which they call 
bouchou' (p. 317). 

The urinating ceremony is 'falsely ascribed to the Hottentots in the celebration of their 
marriages' (p. 299). 

The Hottentots made an intoxicating liquor from honey and 'a certain root' (p. 310). 

W. Paterson (1790) (see also Paterson 1777-9) 

(Paterson and Gordon encountered Hottentots at the Great River, renamed the Orange 
River by Gordon, and at its mouth (p. 112); although there may be some doubt as to the 
identity of the coastal people, their descriptions and the illustrations fit those of 'poor' 
beachcombing Hottentots rather than Bushmen.) 

The Hottentots mixed dried aromatic plants with grease for an ointment 'which they use as 
we do perfume; this ointment they call Buchu' (p. 115). The coastal people live from fish, seals 
and jackals, and stranded whales ('grampus'); 'they smear their skins with the oil or train' 
(pp. 115, 116). 

C. P. Thunberg (1793) 

Thunberg referred to women Hottentot servants at Paarl and 'the great quantity of stinking 
grease with which they besmeared themselves' (1: 131, see also 2: 309); beyond Swellendam the 
Hottentots were 'besmeared all over with grease, and powdered with the powder of bucku 
{Diosma); and to show us respect as strangers, they had painted themselves besides with red 
and black streaks' (1: 170). Elsewhere he again referred to the use of grease and 'bucku' 
(1: 309; 2: 186, 187). Some inland Hottentots used the grease left in his pot to besmear 
themselves and then smeared soot from the pot over themselves too (2: 161). The fat 'defends 
them in summer against the scorching heat of the sun, and from the cold in winter' (2: 187). 

'Amongst their ointments, they mix the powder of a strong smelling herb, which they call 
Bucku (a species of Diosma frequently the Pulchella)' (2: 187). 'The dead are interred in 
graves, over which are set a tortoise-shell, filled with some odoriferous powder' (2: 42). Buchu 
was kept in tortoise-shells (1: 193, 2: 82) or "turtle-shells' (2: 188). 

'When they are visited by strangers' the Hottentots 'paint their faces with various figures of 
brown and black paint' (2: 197). 

They ate or drank grease (1: 192); 'they drink the blubber of sea-cows like water, and the 
tail of a sheep, which consists entirely of fat, they prefer to any other part' (2: 196. see also 
2: 300). They ate marrow cooked in the bones (2: 82). 

Butter was seldom churned and was used only for smearing; it was made by shaking the 
milk in a skin bag (1: 198). Milk was kept in baskets or antelope skins (2: 310) (the English 
translation erroneously says 'goat skins', the original Swedish clearly states 'buck' or antelope 

The fat on the berries of the 'wax-shrub' was melted off in boiling water; 'the farmers use it 
for candles, but the Hottentots eat it like a piece of bread, either with or without meat' 
(2: 166-167). Sheepskins were prepared with a little fat (this was omitted from the English 
translation at 2: 188). 

A root, gli, was pulverized and added to honey water to make mead overnight (2: 30); it 
was also called 'moor-wortel' (2: 150) and was usually dug up in November to December 
(2: 167, see 2: 191). 

Beads were made from ostrich egg-shells (2: 176). 

In the male initiation ceremony, 'after a youth has been besprinkled, according to custom, 
with urine, some animal is killed, and its omentum, or cawl, is tied about its neck (2: 42); he 
was sprinkled with the urine of the 'Master of Ceremonies' (2: 192). 


Hottentots and Bushmen immunized themselves against poisonous bites 'by suffering 
themselves to the gradually bitten by serpents, scorpions and other venomous creatures ... the 
urine of a Hottentot thus prepared is esteemed an excellent antidote or counterpoison, and is 
therefore drunk by such as have been bitten by serpents' (2: 163). 

In the marriage ceremony, the bridal couple were sprinkled with urine by the 'priest' 
(2: 192). 

J. J. Kicherer in 1799 

Kicherer, one of the first missionaries to work among the Hottentots, remarked that 'they 
smear their bodies with fat and lie in the sun' (Van Onselen 1961: 107). 

W. Somerville (1799-1802) 

The Kora 'ornament their face, hair, and sometimes the whole body with the brilliant 
powder which they produce by pounding a brilliant ochry stone, of metallic lustre and weight 
. . . found near the country of the Briquas. On the tawny ground of their hair and skin the 
sparkling of the powder has a very good effect' (p. 94). He described the 'cavern' where the ore 
was procured (pp. 104-105). 

W. B. E. Paravicini di Capelli (1803) 

The Hottentot women in the service of the colonists smeared their cheeks with red clay and 
rubbed themselves with fat (p. 23). 

R. Percival (1804) 

'From their infancy . . . anoint their bodies with sheep's fat and grease mixed with soot, 
ashes, bucku powder or such materials' (p. 86). 

J. Barrow (1806) 

The Hottentots smeared their greasy hands over their bodies; 'face and hands . . . they 
kept somewhat cleaner than the other parrs of the body by rubbing them occasionally with the 
dung of cattle, which takes up the grease, when pure water would have no effect' (1: 103). 
Greasing of the body protected it against the elements (1: 106). During a girl's puberty rites all 
her ornaments were removed and her body was washed clean, a rare occurrence (Barrow 
quoted by Schapera 1930). Wounds caused by Bushman arrows were washed with urine and 
gunpowder (1: 292). 

E. F. Steeb in 1812, 1822 

A water-colour picture by Steeb shows a Hottentot woman with a child — two broad, 
painted red lines run from her nose, one on either side, across the cheeks to the temples; the 
face of the child is painted white (Fig. 6). In another picture by the same artist, a Hottentot 
woman has her face similarly painted. (A picture by an unknown artist in the same (Fehr) 
collection shows a Hottentot girl with a painted face and chest.) (Fehr Collection, Rust en 
Vreugd, Cape Town.) 

R. Collins (1809) 

On his journey to the north-eastern boundary of the Colony and the Orange River, Col. 
Collins noted that dung was used for fuel where there was a shortage of wood (he did not say 
by which population group) (p. 12). In the eastern Cape, on his journey to Kaffraria, Collins 
encountered a black man whose 'figure was tall and elegant, but as well as his face, was 
rendered more like that of a Hottentot than of a Kaffir, by being all over smeared with ochre' 
(p. 40) (in Moodie 1838). 

Saartjie Baardman, died 1816 

This Hottentot woman of strange proportions was taken to England in 1810 and was 
exhibited in London and Paris, where she died in 1816. A picture of her in the Africana 
Museum, Johannesburg, shows her face painted along the nose and cheeks. 

C. I. Latrobe (1818) 

At Genadendal, in the south-western Cape, the Hottentots tanned skins by 'covering them 
with sheep's fat, strewing a species of chalk over them and with a sand-stone . . . rubbing them' 
(p. 272). 


W. Burchell (1822-4) 

In telling of his travels inland, particularly north of the Orange River, Burchell wrote 
rather vaguely of the use by 'Bushmen and other tribes of the Hottentot race . . . and Bichuana 
nations' of red ochre and grease (2: 149). A Kora man at Klaarwater wore a kaross 'which 
together with his whole body, were so covered with red ochre and grease that the part of my 
waggon against which he leaned was painted or rather soiled, with a red stain which was found 
not easy to be extracted' (1: 490). 

He referred to the 'greasy bodies' of the inland Hottentots and the use of 'Buku and other 
scents' (1: 249). Hottentot women anointed their bodies with animal fat as protection against 
sun and weather, and 'Buku, made of the leaves of various aromatic or scented plants, dried 
and reduced to a powder by pounding them on a stone . . . chiefly DiosmcC but elsewhere 
'Crotort (1: 395). 

During meals the Hottentots in his party wiped their hands on arms, legs and feet; 'to 
anoint or grease their bodies is the most easy and effectual mode of preserving their skin from 
the . . . sun' (1: 156). 

Fat was smeared on wood before bowls were made from the wood (1: 407). 

Burchell described how he saw Hottentots cooking and eating ostrich eggs by mixing the 
contents with a twirled stick in the shell, then cooking the egg on the fire (2: 17). Beads were 
made from the shells (1: 275; 2: 399). 

J. Campbell (1822) 

'The Corannas' were so lazy that 'they will not even travel up the country for ochre to 
paint their bodies but procure it from the Griquas in exchange for their sheep and oxen' 
(2: 194). 

During the initiation of a Hottentot boy, the fat of the animal that had been slaughtered to 
eat was tied to the head and round the neck of the boy where it had to be worn until it rotted 
away. At the end of the ceremony, the entrails of the animal were dried, pounded to powder, 
mixed with water and rubbed over the boy — he was then a man (Campbell quoted in Schapera 
1930: 281-282). 

G. Thompson (1827) 

Queen Mahoota 'is not of Bechuana but of Hottentot lineage . . . her hair is shaved in the 
Bechuana fashion, leaving a bunch on the crown of the head, which is anointed with grease and 
powdered well with sibillo, a. shining mineral powder much in request at the court of the 
Matclhapees'. The latter had 'red paint stone' as well as 'powder of blink-klip' (1: 165-166). 

'Boors' and Hottentots used urine, mixed with gunpowder, for snake-bite (1: 400). 
Thompson did not see any evidence of 'Kolben's disgusting marriage ceremony' (urinating on 
people) among the Koranna on the Gariep River (2: 33). 

A mixture of gall and fat was used as a remedy for boils of 'bloodfever' which occurred in 
February to March along the Gariep (2: 33). 

M. D. Teenstra (1830) 

Hottentots at the Cape smeared a certain mixture of fat, oil, etc. in their hair — 
'Hottentotten, die in hun hoofdhaar een zeker mengsel van vet, olie, enz. smeren' (p. 194). 

A. Smith (c. 1833) 

Among the Hottentots 'friction with oily matters or fat is common for soreness or pains'. 
The women wear, on a string round the neck, a small tortoise-shell in which are 'paints, Buchu 
powder or such articles'. 

When slaughtering an animal the blood is scooped into a pot. 

Honey and water are mixed and fermented with the aid of a root called 'Mor' — this was 
drunk by men and women. (It is not clear whether he was writing here of Bushmen or 
Hottentots or both.) 

A. Smith (1834-6) 

In his Diary Smith mentions that among the Hoymans who extended in old times as far as 
the Olifants and Gamtoos rivers, barren women were rubbed over with fat by a 'doctor*. In 
some cases of death, all the men and women in a kraal were smeared with fat (pp. 288, 291). 


J. E. Alexander (1838) 

Alexander wrote of the 'Namaqua' in South West Africa: 'The sun, by some of the people 
of this benighted land, is considered to be a mass of fat' (p. 168). 'When a person is sick, the 
doctor comes and orders a good sheep to be killed, as he can do nothing without first eating 
plenty of fat; he reserves a little of the fat to smear the patient with' (pp. 169-170). 'Both sexes 
are fond of greasing the skin and the women also bookoo themselves . . . and sometimes draw 
odd looking streaks of soot and grease on their faces' (pp. 192-193). 

J. Tindall (1839-55) 

(Unfortunately Mrs Tindall, the transcriber of his Journal, heavily edited it and later 
destroyed the original. A portion only of the Nama initiation ceremony, described by Tindall, 
was retained.) 'The youth is seized early in the morning . . . stripped of his skin kaross and his 
loin girdle. By this time the males of the village are assembled. They spout plentifully an 
unmentionable kind of water all over his body' (p. 28). 

When a rhino had been slaughtered, 'the water was taken out of the stomach and nearly 
the whole company allayed their thirst' (p. 38). 

T. Baines (1842-53) 

The Cape Hottentot women accompanying the expedition improved their 'tawny visages by 
spreading over them a strong tint of red ochre . . . afterwards modified by an admixture of 
grease and charcoal, producing an infinite variety of harmoniously blended tints' (p. 37). 

T. Arbousset & F. Daumas (1846) 

Koranna women along the Gariep River 'anoint their bodies with sheep-tail fat, mixed with 
a reddish-coloured ochre' (p. 27). 

E. E. Napier (1849) 

Male Hottentots of '200 years' ago, used a 'liberal unction of cow-dung and animal fat . . . 
smeared over with a sort of reddish clay' (1: 66). Grease was applied to bodies from time to 
time and remained on. Hands and faces were cleaned with the dung of cattle (1: 64). 

J. Chapman (1849-63, 1868) 

In Bechuanaland, on the way to the Botlele River, he saw Damara (Herero) women 
collecting a small bulb called ondamboro, to sell to the Hottentots who used it to 'powder 
themselves under the arms ... to destroy the odour' (Chapman 1849-63 2: 152). 'Our Damaras 
here collected an odiferous herb very like the shamrock trefoil, but possessing a powderful 
aroma, with which they perfume themselves. . . . The Namaqua and Bush women use these 
perfumes chiefly to destroy or neutralize . . . the odours. . . . These herbs, of which there were 
a great variety, they call bucho. They carry them, reduced to a powder, in tortoise-shells, and 
use them when required. Some of the paints and powders used by the Namaqua women are 
derived from certain lichens growing on stones and emitting a strong aromatic odour. They also 
use a kind of saffron, of which there are two or three varieties found in the country; also a small 
bulb, and other aromatic plants. They paint their faces with a paste composed of charcoal and 
fat, on the cheeks and over the eyebrows, and with dry redlead round the eyes . . . which they 
defend on the ground of its being an antidote for opthalmia' (Chapman 1868 1: 399). 

(In Chapman 1849-63 is one of Baines's pictures of 'Namaqua' women with painted faces) 
(Fig. 5 herein). 

'Another [herb] is a trefoil with pea-flower, which grows near the vleys, and has a stronger 
odour. This the Hottentot women esteem very much as a scent, and with them goes by the 
name of buchu, the smell of which it somewhat resembles' (Chapman 1868 2: 28). 

'The Bushmen and other natives press an oil from the seeds of the fruit of the morofono- 
goe (plum)' around Lake Ngami (Chapman 1868 2: 323). 

Honey beer was a favourite brew of the Hottentots (Chapman 1868 2: 323). 

W. C. Harris (1852) 

Near Campbells-dorp, across the Orange River, 'we observed a large party of Corannas 
engaged in an attempt to run down an ostrich on foot . . . their prevailing dress is a cloak and 
cap of leather, bedaubed in common with their own skins, with an unguent of grease and red 
ochre' (p. 34). 


D. Livingstone (1857) 

The Griqua and Bechuanas smeared themselves with fat and ochre and put pounded blue 
mica schist and grease on their hair (p. 84). 

C. F. Wuras in c. 1858 

(Wuras (1929), a missionary at Bethany in the Orange Free State, made these notes about 
the Kora in about 1858.) 

When a youth is initiated into manhood his body is smeared with animal (in this case an 
ox) fat. Then the mother of the youth smears his face with 'a salve, consisting of fat and the 
pulverized bark of a certain tree' and 'strews pulverized quartz on his head'. 

'The woman of the house takes a horn filled with oil, and pours it over the heads of 

In female initiation at the onset of menstruation, the girl is rubbed with the fat of the 
animal slaughtered for the occasion (in this case a cow). 

The people practised cicatrization. 

P. B. Borcherds (1861) 

The Hottentots smeared themselves with fat and also drank fat (p. 113). The 'Korannahs 
. . . besmear themselves with grease and adorn themselves with powdered ochres' (p. 119). 

Thomas Baines (1864) 

He mentioned a 'Namaqua' girl with 'eyebrows, nose and cheeks . . . outlined with blue 
clay' (p. 76). One of his pictures shows 'Namaqua' women with painted faces (see Chapman 
1849-63) (Fig. 5 herein). 

C. J. Andersson, before 1867 

(This information was recorded before 1867, the year of Andersson's death.) 

Andersson (1873: 25) quoted Thunberg's information that a lion 'had much rather eat a 

Hottentot than a Christian' because the former is 'besmeared with fat. . .'. 

T. Hahn (1867 et seq.) (see also Hahn 1881) 

The Nama used fresh dung with which to clean their hands. Sometimes water was used 
afterwards (Hahn 1867: 306). The Nama smeared a dead man's body with the blood of a goat 
(Hahn 1867: 333). Hoernle (1918) quoted Hahn as saying that at the end of the period of 
seclusion, the fat of the heifer that had been killed was hung over the girl's head for fertility; 
the girls who had come of age ran naked in the first rain so that it washed their bodies; it was 
said to bring fertility. Hahn was told in the 1870s that sprinkling a grave with cold water cooled 
the soul of the deceased (Hoernle 1923). In 1869 Hahn observed that Nama youths were 
sprinkled with urine by the 'magician' during puberty rites (Schapera 1930: 279). 

J. Chapman (1868) (see Chapman 1849-63, 

R. Ridgill (1870) 

To caulk a boat at the Orange River, the men from the Bath (Hottentot men from 
Warmbad, South West Africa) were handed 'all the suet of the sheep we had killed for weeks 
past . . . saved for the purpose'. 'After proper mastication, it was mixed with cow-dung to the 
consistence of putty. . . . The natives enjoy it." 

At the very lower Gariep River, on the South West African side, were Hottentot women 
with 'streaks of red and yellow ochre'. 

G. Fritsch (1872) 

The skins worn by the Hottentots were smeared with a mixture of rancid fat and buchu 
{'Diasma spp.') leaves (p. 273). 

Cheeks were reddened. Fritsch referred to Daniell's sketch of a Hottentot with reddened 
cheeks and lips (p. 273). Faces were painted in patterns with red earth — he referred to Baines's 
sketch (p. 274). The black 'crust' on a face consisted of ash from certain plants mixed with fat 
and used as a protection against cold (p. 275). The skins of Hottentots were covered with a 
layer of fat, dirt, and buchu powder. It was a sign of wealth, protected against cold, and. when 


mixed with different kinds of ash, 'protects against other things' (p. 309). The men smeared 
their faces with fat, buchu powder and 'red'. The women painted bizarre patterns with red 
ochre on their faces, including six bold stripes, rings round the eyes, paint across the bridge of 
the nose, on the cheeks, etc. Fritsch noted that nowhere is 'Blinkklip' (specularite) mentioned 
by early authors, and the Hottentots did not like it (p. 313). The Korana used fat, ochre and 
buchu with which to smear their bodies; Fritsch questioned Wood's information that the 
Korana also used 'Sibilo' or 'Blinkklip' (p. 373). 

Fritsch quoted Hahn ('Beitrage zur Kunde d. Hottent. Z.d. Verein f. Erdkunde. Dresden 
VI') as stating that the 'Namaqua' still used the wetting with urine in certain ceremonies 
(p. 330). 

The Namaqua smeared goat's blood on a dead person (p. 365). 

E. J. Dunn (1872-3, 1931) 

Near 'Naugat' (Nauga), on the road to 'Steermans Pits' in the Prieska district, is the 
'famous locality at which that indispensable toilet requisite to all good Kaffirs, red paint, is 
obtained. With this they smear not only their persons, but their clothes and utensils.' They 
'daub this unctuous red hematite over everything' (Dunn 1872-3 pt 1). (Dunn might have 
included the Khoisan peoples in this area in his statement.) 

At Kakamas (on the Orange River) 'painting is very fashionable, not only with the women, 
but some of the men also. There stands a young Koranna lady whose toilet is just 
completed. . . . Her face is painted jet black while round each eye and the nostrils a narrow 
strip is painted of a livid red colour. . . . The paint is generally carried in a small, prettily- 
marked tortoise-shell. The black is obtained by burning a small bush and saving the lamp-black, 
a purplish brown from a description of fungus, while oxide of iron furnishes red. For use these 
are ground up with a little fat' (Dunn 1872-3 pt 2). 

'In 1872 there were great numbers of Hottentots living along the course of the Orange 
River. At one place I saw two or three hundred assembled at a honey-beer drinking. . . . 
Before such a festival, or for dances, both men and women painted their faces. For this purpose 
they used red (haematite), black (charcoal)Vand purple (which was made from a fungus or puff 
ball). These colours were mixed with fat and were placed in the shells of small land tortoises 
which were suspended from the women's necks. The purple was much used by the women, who 
smeared it over their faces in spots. This gave them a livid appearance as though they were 
bruised' (Dunn 1931: 12-13). 

The conical cooking-pots were red in colour until blackened by use (Dunn 1931: 87). 

T. Hahn (1881) (see also Hahn 1867) 

Hahn quoted a letter from Nicolas Witsen, written in 1691: the Hottentots had informed 
him 'that they worshipped a certain god . . . who was possessed of gigantic proportions. ... It 
was a custom that their wives spread on the head of this deity a red kind of earth, buchu, or 
other sweet-smelling herbs, this being not one of their offerings, but one of many' (p. 37). 

'The colour red, /ava, also takes its origin from /au, to bleed, hence /ava or /aua, 
blood-like, blood-coloured — i.e. red' (p. 79). 'Redmen or /Ava-khoin is a name the Khoikhoi 
used to distinguish themselves from the hated black people' (pp. 112, 152). 

Hahn referred to a name which meant 'the man whose body has a brass-coloured 
backbone'. 'This is the lightning. . . . Here we have, perhaps, the explanation why the 
Khoikhoi women on occasions anoint themselves with red ochre, and also for the purposes of 
worship make marks with red ochre (torob) on certain sacred stones and cairns'. He suggested 
that 'the painting of the sacred stones with red ochre was merely an act to replace the cruel 
offering of human blood by a simple, symbolical ceremony'. 'In place of this terra rubra (red 
ochre, torob) they also used frequently the red tannic juice of the Acacia giraffe' (p. 140). At 
p. 104 Hahn gives 4 gorab for ochre, red clay. 

The Hottentots 'also consider the drinking of lion or panther blood as having influence on 
the nature of a person or on the child in the mother's womb' (p. 88). 

According to a legend, before hunting a lion a man's mother 'anointed him with butter 
which had been melted over the fire; and she took it from the sacred tub, and she sprinkled 
sweet-smelling Buchu on her son'. Before killing the lion, 'he washed . . . and then drank of 
the water, throwing it with two fingers into the mouth. . . . Since that day all Namaquas when 
in the veldt drink the waters of the ponds and fountains in this manner.' On his return from the 


hunt, his mother smeared him again with 'fresh-roasted butter' and sprinkled him with buchu 
(pp. 71-72). 

Hahn mentioned other instances of the ritual use of water: the wife of a hunter must pour 
water on the ground while he is away to ensure success in the hunt (p. 77). 'The girl or girls 
who have become of age must, after the festival, run about in the first thunder-storm . . . quite 
naked, so that the rain which pours down washes the whole body' (p. 87). 'Another custom, 
which also proves that the Khoikhoi believe that the person in the grave is not quite dead, is 
that of throwing water on the grave shortly after burial ... in order to cool the soul of the 
deceased' (p. 113). 

Sometimes honey and honey-beer is left as an offering at 'Heitsi-eibib's graves' (p. 69). 

Some 'sorcerers . . . having a great practical knowledge of the meteorology of this country 
. . . sprinkle their urine into a burning fire being convinced that it will soon rain' (p. 83). 

B. Ridsdale (1883) 

Hottentots collected honey for eating (p. 79). 

Ostrich eggs were eaten (p. 80). 

The mother of Hendrik Hendriks, chief of the 'Veldschoen Draagers' was 'from head to 
foot ... so thickly besmeared with grease and red dust as entirely to conceal the real colour of 
the skin. This unguent was to serve as a protection against the sun' (pp. 165-166). 

The Koranna 'occasionally shoot the enormous hippopotami, the flesh of which, especially 
the fat about the ribs, they esteem a most luscious article of food' (p. 183). 

J. Olpp (1888) 

(Schapera extracted the information given below from Olpp's 1888 paper, 'Aus dem 
Sagenschatz der Nama Khoi-Khoin, Mitt. Geogr. Ges. 6: 1-47', which the present writer has 
not seen.) 

During male puberty rites the boy, in the care of an old man, cleaned off all the ochre with 
which he had been smeared; in this time horizontal cuts were made on the boy's chest and 
rubbed with ash. He was then taken to lean over water, to touch it with his mouth — the old 
man hit the water with a stick so that it splashed into the boy's face 'to frighten and splash away 
the evil heart of the boy'. Schapera (1930: 283) added that it was also a reintroduction to water. 

According to Olpp. if a taboo was broken, a man was purified by 'drinking' the boiled 
blood of a lamb; he then washed with the contents of the stomach before eating the flesh 
(Schapera 1930: 283). 

H. Schinz (1891) 

Hottentot women painted their faces red at the time of their menstruation (p. 85). 

H. van Francois (1896) 

The Hottentot woman in South West Africa tries to increase her looks by garish painting. 
Black and red paints are made from soot, ground wood charcoal, and red earth ochre. Both 
colours are stirred with fat and perfumed with buchu powder. With this mixture they paint the 
prominent parts of their cheeks and draw circles round the eyes as far as the forehead, 
sometimes across the nose right down to the upper lip. They explain this as necessary against 
the rays of the sun and as protection against the biting wind, but pure vanity is probably the 
main reason, because, firstly this custom is not in use among the men. and, secondly, they use 
the paints wherever they happen to find them. They also use oil paints and washing blue if they 
can get hold of these. A tortoise-shell with the beloved buchu is often carried bv women 
(p. 205). 

A girl initiate was rubbed with buchu (p. 213). 

As an aid during the birth, the woman was massaged with fat (p. 214). 

G. W. Stow (1905) 

(Stow's information was gathered before 1882. the year of his death.) 

The Griqua put a shining powder in their hair (p. 317): the Griqua women put powdered 

blue mica in their hair (p. 318); their bodies were daubed with red paint, their heads were 

'loaded with grease and shining powder' (p. 317). 

The Hottentots smeared their greasy hands over their bodies and cleaned their faces and 

hands with the dung of cattle (p. 240). 


G. E. Westphal in 1906 

On 18 October 1906 the missionary at Pniel, G. E. Westphal, sent Dr L. Peringuey of the 
South African Museum 'two mushrooms used by the natives and in earlier times by Bushmen. 
The one, like a bulb, is the yellow, like ocker, the other brown like umber. The yellow was 
used with fat to have a coat of paint all over the body to protect it against cold and heat; the 
second is a mushroom growing on antheaps and was used as food when in fresh state . . . the 
Koranna still use both colours to paint their faces, especially the yellow, however they prefer 
the rooiklip (ocker) if they can get it' (South African Museum files). 

L. Schultze (1907) 

(Schultze wrote mainly about the Nama of South West Africa but it was not always clear 
when he meant them or other groups.) 

Fat was a great delicacy. It was also drunk warm. Butter or fat was kept in a special skin 
bag, the opening of which was closed with cow-dung (p. 186). 

Fat, rubbed over the body, was in general use among the women for cosmetic purposes 
(p. 179), for massaging the body in sickness and pregnancy, and for general well-being. It was 
smeared all over the body (p. 207). The fat container was an ox-horn with a lid of skin (p. 207). 

The women and girls painted themselves. There were various paints. Red {I aba) was from 
'Eisenoxyd rot gefarbten Tonschiefers' (iron oxide red-coloured slate or clay) called Inaub, 
mixed with raw, chewed fat; the paint was smeared on the face with the fingers. 'Eisenrost' 
(iron-rust), a red-brown colour, was used as a substitute. A dark-brown paint came from 
'Steinschweiss' ('klipsweet' or hyraxeum which is dassie urine with dung); the black, shiny stuff 
was mixed with water and then applied to the fat-besmeared face. The effect, to Schultze, was 
ugly (p. 210). He included an analysis of the secretion which was aromatic and sweet to the 
taste (p. 690). 

The women painted dark masks on their faces: the face was smeared with fat and, with a 
bit of animal skin, black or red powder was applied. Black came from the roasted, tuberous 
lower stem of a pelargonium, red from the^ dried, inner wood of the camel-thorn tree. Parts of 
the face were sharply outlined with a wet finger-tip to make blank spaces in the paint according 
to individual taste (p. 210). 

For new-born babies a salve was made of fat and powdered, burnt ostrich egg-shell, or fat 
and the burnt underground part of Oxalis caledonica. Sand was applied to the navel (p. 221). 

Ingredients for medicines were mixed with raw, chewed fat (p. 226). 

Buchu was obtained from various sources, including a kind of mesembrianthemum, a kind 
of Cyperus root, lichens, and the spores of a mushroom, the head of which was hung on a 
thread round the neck and the yellow spores were allowed to disperse over the body. The rest 
of it was dried and powdered (p. 208). Buchu was collected in the whole skin of a new-born 
lamb, or foetus of a lamb. The dried plants were lightly roasted over a fire, pulverized with fine 
quartz, put in a shallow wooden dish and freed of large pieces by winnowing. It was kept in a 
tortoise-shell container hung on a band. The opening of the tortoise-shell was closed with the 
blackened gum of some plant (from which beads were also made) or the hardened mixture 
made by stamping the salivary glands of cattle (p. 208). (Elsewhere Schultze remarked that the 
Masarwa sealed their carapaces with beeswax (p. 676).) A piece of jackal-skin served as a 
powder-puff and to close the top (p. 208). The women used buchu all over the body, the men 
on the armpits and neck (p. 210). The women heated buchu on hot stones and allowed the 
fumes to penetrate the clothing. Babies' blankets and the garments of the dead were strewn 
with buchu (p. 210). 

When skins were tanned with the dried, soaked red bark of Acacia horrida, they became 
red (pp. 233-234). 

To steel himself for war, a young man who had not yet killed an enemy had to drink the 
blood of an animal (p. 339). 

Honey beer was made (p. 204); honey was kept in a sack (p. 205). 

The coastal Hottentots washed their hair with raw penguin egg. 

Beads were made of gum (p. 208, see above) or charcoal and gum (p. 251). 

C. L. Biden & H. Kling (1912) 

Their studies were mainly concerned with the Hottentot people in Namaqualand. 'The 
medicine-man prepares medicine . . . even out of the dung of certain animals and the urine of 


rock-rabbits. An incision is made in the skin of the affected person by means of a calf's horn, 
and the medicine is injected in the scarified part, the patient being told to believe in various 

Buchu leaves, "Barosma crenulata\ were sprinkled on corpses and graves. 

E. Fischer (1913) 

The Hottentots (in South West Africa) have tortoise-shell containers with buchu in them. 
They use a dark-red soft sandstone containing iron oxide and feldspar for a cosmetic. 

The Rehoboth Basters make soap out of butter-fat when there is a surplus of milk and 
butter (p. 260). Their children crush animal bones with a round stone on a lower grindstone for 
the fat and blood which they lick from the stone. They love fat. They drink fresh or sour milk 
(p. 261). Warm cow-dung is used against rheumatism. Roasted ostrich egg-shell is ground and 
mixed with water to a porridge which is placed on the head of a person with fever, or it is mixed 
with fat for an ointment against eye trouble, etc. Roasted bones are ground and mixed with fat 
and red ochre for an ointment for burns (p. 281). A corpse is washed with water, a custom 
peculiar to the Nama (p. 282). 

A. W. Hoernle (1918, 1923) 

(In her study of the state of \nau ('andersmaak', transition, e.g. sickness, widowhood, 
adolescence and puberty rites) among the Nama in South West Africa, especially in Berseba, 
Hoernle (1918) mentioned the role of various substances under examination here.) 

In a girl's puberty ceremony, buchu made of sweet-smelling bark, roots, or leaves, ground 
to powder, was sprinkled over the girl and her clothes; Inaop, a face paint made by grinding 
soft red stone to powder and mixing it with fat, was used to paint patterns on the girl's face. At 
the end of the time of seclusion, the girl was cleansed with moist cow-dung and \naop. Her skin 
was well greased, and after the initiation period her face was painted in various patterns with 
\naop and \quasab ('ground white stone'). The young boys came into her hut and she rubbed 
their testicles with a powder-puff full of buchu to ensure their fertility and protection against 
sexual diseases. Later, at the dancing, she threw buchu over the men and boys for good luck. 

In the remarriage ceremony, blood from the man and woman was mixed with animal blood 
and dirt from the skin of the officiating old woman, and the mixture was rubbed into cuts in the 
skins of the couple. (According to Schapera (1930: 407), Hoernle reported a similar ceremony 
with blood and dirt regarding a sick person, but this has not been traced.) When the cuts had 
healed, the couple were cleansed in the same way as were the young girls, with cow-dung and 
Inaop. Guests and the couple ate the cooked meat of the slaughtered animal, only guests ate 
the intestines and blood cooked together, and the old woman ate the meat on the pelvis (of the 
sheep or goat), which was kept intact. The bones were then tied together and hung from the 
rafters. Hoernle knew of no record of this remarriage ceremony south of the Orange River and 
said that the goat was not used in ceremonial meals if it could be avoided, probably because the 
Hottentots had not originally owned goats. 

The funeral ceremony included the following rites: after returning from the grave all the 
people washed their hands in cold water. Blood from a slaughtered animal was collected in a 
pot, a herb was added, it was heated to boiling point and a red-hot chopper was stirred round in 
it to make the steam rise while the immediate relatives sitting round the pot perspired. An old 
man made a line with potblack on the stomach of each person 'to prevent their getting pains 
from eating the food'. In Berseba the line was made with blood. The relatives ate the flesh of 
the animal, but only the officiating person and others of like age might use the blood. 

A widow was cleansed with moist cow-dung or, on the Orange River, with a brew made 
from a species of Euphorbia, or in Walvis Bay where there were no cattle, with ground naras 
(Acanthosicyos horrida) pips, goat-dung, and fat. Her body was rubbed with Inaop. A mark 
was made under each eye with potblack 'so that everything a widow meets may be nice to her', 
and on her chest 'so that her food may go down nicely'. 

A sick man was cleansed with dung and fat. 

There were various taboos in connection with water in the state of \nau: cold water was a 
danger to the person involved, and after the state of \nau the person had to be reintroduced to 
it, and was usually sprinkled or splashed with water. The witch-doctor never touched water lest 
his powers were diminished, and an evil witch-doctor lost his power when he was ducked by the 
chief's orders. 


Water was of special significance in the lives of the Nama (Hoernle 1923). When it was 
taboo, it could cause death. During puberty ceremonies a girl was not to touch water from a 
few days to a month. A grave was strewn with buchu and sprinkled with water, which was said 
to harden the grave so that animals could not dig there, but Hoernle noted that Theophilus 
Hahn had been told in the 1870s that it cooled the soul of the deceased. Close relatives of a 
person who had died might not touch water, but all the other people of the kraal washed their 
hands in cold water after the burial to avoid getting sick. Cold water was sprinkled in the hut 
where the body had been. 

G. McC. Theal (1919) 

The Hottentots relished the tail fat of a sheep and used it to rub on their bodies and to 
make their skin karosses flexible (p. 97). From earliest infancy their bodies were smeared with 
grease and rubbed over with clay, soot, or powdered buchu. The coat of grease and clay was 
not intended for ornament alone, but also protected against weather and vermin (p. 100). Theal 
(p. 117) quoted Alexander that among the Namaqua north of the Orange River, the 'doctor' 
could do nothing without first eating plenty of fat; he reserved a little of the fat to smear on the 

Milk was kept in skin bags (p. 97). Honey was converted into an intoxicating drink (p. 98). 

S. S. Dornan (1925) 

The Hottentots, 'like the Bushmen . . . were fond of anointing themselves with fat, 
generally rancid, mixed with clay. They said it kept out the cold. They were fond of aromatic 
plants, such as buchu' (p. 213). 

P. W. Laidler (1928) 

Among the Hottentots umbilical hernias were 'due to the use of fat on the new-born baby's 
umbilical cord which retarded the drying'. 'When pain was felt, fat was rubbed in. . . . Plasters 
of fat were applied from a freshly killed animal.' Hot fat was also rubbed in. 

An ointment made from raw fat and pulverized dagga leaves is used for pains in the eyes.' 
Burnt and powdered ostrich egg-shell mixed with tail fat of a sheep or goat was used to rub on 
the chest or whole body for 'snuffles or coryza'. 

Cow-dung, goat-dung, or certain leaves smeared with fat were used as poultices. 

'Gums and resins are used to only a small extent. Heyra, the exudation of the acacia tree, 
is used as a food, and, when boiled, with fat as a salve. . . .' The resin of several species of 
Euryops 'is boiled and the bitter decoction used in fevers'. 

Fat was mixed with other medicinal substances, e.g. a kind of buchu was 'roasted with oil 
and fat, mixed with mother's milk and dropped into the ear for earache'. 

'Dassiepis ... the inspissated urine and faeces of the rock rabbit' was used, internally and 
externally, as a medicine for various ailments. Plaster of 'dassiepis' (also called 'klipsweet') 
were applied to snake bites. 

Euphorbia milk was used to do away with warts. 

The Hottentots used various red paints as remedies 'because they are red and blood is red'. 

H. Vedder (19286, 1929, 1938) 

The 'fat box' of the Nama was a piece of horn closed at both ends with ox-hide. 'In this box 
they had the reddish ointment which was applied to those parts of the face that got chapped 
during cold weather. The women and girls also applied this ointment to their faces on other 
occasions' (19286: 126). 'There are still women who hideously paint their faces with a blackish 
red salve during the period of menstruation, or early pregnancy and on cold winter days' 
(19286: 137). 

The Nama smeared their bodies with 'an ointment from red iron-stone and fat' (1938: 51). 
The 'rouge-pots' were made from pieces of ox-horn (1938: 53). 

The Rooi Nasie, a Nama tribe, got its name because of the custom of its people to rub 
their bodies with a mixture of fat and red earth (ochre) (1929). 

Buchu was made 'from a great variety of shrubs and roots' (19286: 137). 

The dry menstrual blood of an initiate who was thought to have special powers was mixed 
with food to kill enemies; that of a harmless girl was used as a medicine for male sexual diseases 
(19286: 136). 


'Upon their return from the funeral, the relatives formed themselves into successive groups 
and all partook of a small quantity of the blood of the animals which had been killed for the 
funeral feast. With the rest, mixed with the intestines, an old woman besmeared those present 
in the region of the heart and the small of the back in order to counteract the harmful effect of 
the mourning and the strain of the lament for the dead' (1938: 55). 

I. Schapera (1930, 1933) 

(Much of Schapera's (1930) information is not first-hand, but it is not always possible to be 
sure when he is quoting others, or whom he is quoting, so that unnecessary repetition of 
information cannot always be avoided.) 

The use of grease, buchu, and red powder was reported by early writers 'and even today 
among the Nama the girls on such [festive] occasions still paint various patterns on their faces 
with a mixture of fat and the powder ground from a soft red stone such as haematite' (p. 69). 

Scarification was still practised among the Nama in connection with ceremonies; the small 
cuts were rubbed with ash (p. 72). 

The Nama made butter from cow's milk in a calabash. It was eaten and used for greasing 
the skin. Animal fat was sometimes drunk warm (p. 237). 

Women used buchu, especially under the arms (p. 245). 

The fat of a cow or sheep, slaughtered for the marriage feast, was strewn with buchu and 
hung round the neck of the bride (p. 247) (according to Schapera this is what Wikar wrote of 
the 'Little Namaqua', but Wikar wrote here of 'Hottentots', and of 'omentum', not 'fat'). 

Skins were softened by rubbing with fat. The Nama steeped them in red lye made from 
acacia bark which coloured them red inside (p. 311). 

Massage was a widely used remedy (p. 408) and fat was used with remedies or as a remedy 
(p. 409). 

A new-born Nama baby was rubbed with fat and was not to be washed in water. With a 
salve of fat and powdered, burnt ostrich egg-shell, the baby was streaked on forehead, temples 
and nose, and the fontanelles were thickly smeared with it. For the first days after the birth, the 
mother was not to touch cold water. At Walvis Bay and Fransfontein (areas of the Topnaars), 
the baby's umbilical cord that had fallen off was introduced to rain by being held out in the 
rain. The mother was also ceremonially reintroduced to water (p. 262). 

A Nama widower was reintroduced to water and had to sprinkle his livestock with water in 
which tamarisk and acacia branches had soaked (p. 366). 

White potassium chlorate, in the form of inspissated urine and faeces of the dassie, purified 
by the action of the atmosphere, was rubbed into scarified snake-bites and scorpion stings (this 
was only one of the remedies) (p. 410). This 'dassiepis', boiled and strained, was a female 
remedy; large doses served as the principal abortifacient (p. 411). If necessary, it was taken for 
several days (p. 260). 

Hot applications in the form of hut dung were used. Goat-dung was used as a poultice, and 
Schultze noted (Schapera does not give the publication) that a Nama patient with chicken-pox 
drank goat-dung cooked in diluted milk; powdered hyena dung was given to children with 
convulsions (pp. 412-413). 

The floor of the interior of the hut was smeared with a mixture of cow-dung and blood 
(p. 230). 

In his introduction to The early Cape Hottentots, Schapera (1933) summarized the 
significance of water in the life of the Hottentots as follows: 'It is worth noting at this stage the 
part which water, because of its outstanding importance to the well-being of the Hottentots, 
came to play in their ceremonial life as well. Among the Naman there was a great annual 
rain-making ceremony, when pregnant sheep and cows were sacrificed to promote the fruitful- 
ness of nature; while in many of the ceremonies connected with the life history of the 
individual, water played an essential part, being endowed in some instances with a special 
protective power, while in others it was considered extremely dangerous and therefore to be 
avoided at all costs. Thus objects or persons which might harm members of the society were 
rendered innocuous by immersion in cold water or by sprinkling with cold water; while on the 
other hand sick people, mothers with new-born babies, menstruating women, bereaved people 
and many others were in a precarious condition and must on no account touch water lest they 
die. When, after many ceremonies of purification, these people were once more introduced to 
the daily life of the tribe, they were specially reintroduced to water, being splashed all over with 
it before they could resume their normal occupations.' (See also Schapera 1926.) 


E. J. Dunn (1931) (see Dunn 1872-3, 1931) 

J. A. Engelbrecht (1936) 

Specularite — 'blinkklip, Ihaib' — was dug up near Clocolan by the Kora women. In pow- 
dered form it was mixed with fat and rubbed into the hair. The Bloemhof people knew about it 
but stated that they never used it themselves and that the custom of using it was Bantu (p. 106). 
The women had a 'rooiklip' horn, a sort of vanity box (p. 101). When visiting, it was taken 
along. It contained the indispensable mixture of red ochre and fat with which the face was made 
up. 'Klaas's wife stated that the difference between the red ochre used by the Bantu and by the 
Korana was that the former burned or roasted it, while the latter did not; Bloemhof people, 
however, contradict this statement' (p. 109). 

In male initiation, some Kora tribes 'anointed the candidate's hair with a mixture of fat and 
blinkklip so that he would have long hair'. He was rubbed clean with a mixture of cattle-dung 
and fresh cream (pp. 160-161). 

Part of the Kora ritual of female initiation was to rub the whole body with red ochre and 
cream (p. 163). Another informant said that the girl was rubbed and cleansed with melted 
butter. They loathed body odours. Some of their customs were said to be Nama (p. 166). 
Another version of female initiation was that the head was finally rubbed with a mixture of 
'blinkklip' and fat (p. 167). 

Engelbrecht mentioned two versions regarding the role of the sheep (or goat) pelvic bones 
in female initiation (pp. 163, 167). In the second version, the pelvic bones of the animal were 
smeared with 'red clay'. 

Apart from the above-mentioned uses, the Kora used fat in other ways: it was rubbed into 
a log of wood from which utensils were to be made (p. 97); fat and herbs or roots, etc., were 
mixed to use for magical purposes and as a medicine (p. 184); a plaster was made of lion's fat 
and pounded 'wag-'n-bietjie' leaves, or an ointment was made of this fat and ash. Some used 
ostrich egg-shell, burnt and pounded, as an ointment, not for ornamentation (p. 186). After a 
death, the family cleansed themselves with cow-dung and cream, and at night with cow-dung 
and fat (p. 189). The Kora ate or drank mefted butter (pp. 98, 113). 

Fat, used for massaging, was kept in a horn container (p. 101) or in small skin pouches or 
calabashes (pp. 101-102). 

Various kinds of buchu were used (pp. 106 ff.). The tortoise-shell powder box was closed 
with a kind of glue obtained from the inner resinous portion of the 'gifbol', a wild bulb looking 
much like an onion. The dry, inner part was mixed with animal stomach fat or kidney fat; 
alternatively 'certain animal glands' were pounded and mixed with charcoal and fat (p. 106). 

Engelbrecht did not mention any deliberate colouring of leather; the skin was rubbed with 
fat before tanning with the pounded roots of the elandsboontjie. Prior to this the Kora used the 
bark of the 'wag-'n-bietjie', which gave the skins a tan colour (p. 110). 

H. Vedder (1938) (see Vedder 1928, 1929, 1938) 

J. Walton (1956) 

Along the Orange River . . . 'from the Bantu the Nama obtained copper beads and glass 
beads resembling copper, whilst from the Tlapin they obtained a certain black ore which they 
mixed with fat and applied to their hair. Graves from this area have yielded fragments of hair 
coated with fat mixed with powdered black haematite, copper coloured glass beads and copper 

J. P. Bruwer (1972) 

During a Nama rain ceremony, 'after slaughtering a cow due to calve, they built a great fire 
and threw large quantities of milk, fat and parts of the cow on it . . . and danced and prayed to 
Tsui-Goab to send rain'. 

E. Palmer & N. Pitman (1972) 

Hottentots used the sweet-scented oil from the small fruits of the wild plum, Pappea 
capensis, for anointing their skins (p. 283); they used the dried leaves of plants (buchu) of the 
family Rutaceae, mixed with fat, to anoint their bodies (p. 284); Barosma, Agathosma, and 
Diosma spp. were used medicinally and as perfume — there are eight genera in the family in 



South and South West Africa (p. 975); the thick, dark bark of Acacia karroo was used 
extensively for tanning leather to which it gave a reddish colour; the Hottentots used bark for 
making cords and mats (p. 270); the bark is a brick-red colour (p. 270); the bark of several 
species of Rhus was once used for tanning. 

South African Museum, Ethnology Collection 

SAM-AE1333: 'Bushwoman? Griqua? Langberg, Cape. Under-kaross, skirt of skin, presented 
by R. C. Camp 1911.' (Believed to be Griqua.) This was made of what seems like goatskin and 
was tanned to a darkish yellow colour on either side. Eight circles of red (ochre?), three of 
them' encircling patches, were made on it. Hair was left on at two ends and it was decorated 
with small, coloured glass beads along part of the sides (Fig. 9). 




Fig. 9. Skirt of leather tanned to a darkish yellow colour, with red circles of ochre (?); said to 
be Griqua (SAM-AE1333) (photo J. Hosford). 

SAM-AE1676: 'Girl's dress (back apron), Hottentot, Lilyfontein, presented by Rev. W. M. 

Crampton 1913.' The skin was dyed brownish orange with a pattern of hair left round the edges 

(Fig. 10). 

UCT 23/132: 'Skin bag tanned with ikus (lihus) bark, Nama Hottentot, Fransfontein, South 

West Africa, presented by Mrs Hoernle, 1923.' It is coloured yellow-brown outside; attached to 

the bag is a tortoise-shell (UCT 23/133) closed at the lower end with a black substance. 

UCT 23/143: 'Root used for tanning, 4nunip.'' 

UCT 23/144: 'Bark used for tanning, ikus {lihus): 

UCT 23/146: 'Rotted bark, 4gaep, of a tree crushed for buchu/ 

UCT 23/154: 'Toadstool used as face powder, \oa sab.' This is a dark yellow-ochre coloured 

powder in a small tin. 

The latter four items were all Nama from Fransfontein, South West Africa, presented bv 
Mrs Hoernle, 1923. 

The above articles have been mentioned here merely by way of example; there are other 
such objects in other museums. 



Fig. 10 Hottentot girl's apron from Lilyfontein, Namaqualand; the colour is brownish orange 
(SAM-AE1676) (photo J. Hosford). 




The Nama people of South West Africa number some 40 000 (C. G. 
Coetzee 1980 pers. comm.) and are at present concentrated in four main areas in 
the southern half of the territory, Namaland. Some, particularly the young and 
middle-aged adults, go to work on farms and in towns, while in the settlements 
and areas that they occupy there are large numbers of children and old people. 
Many of these people still retain some, or many, of the very characteristic 
physical features of their forebears, and also the light skins, often sun-tanned, 
remarked on by early travellers. 

The Nama (the singular form is used throughout here) have retained their 
identity and language. The Nama language is taught in schools, a newspaper is 
printed in Nama, and many of the customs and traditions have been retained, at 
least in part, although they are disappearing among the young people. Perhaps 
the concentration in greater communities of people who had lived scattered 
about for so many decades, and the presence and influence of large numbers of 
old people, may lead to the retention of more aspects of their culture than just 
the language. 

In the last century, Hahn (1881) was notable among those who recorded the 
beliefs and customs of the Nama; in the first few decades of the twentieth 
century, some researchers recorded some of their customs, especially Hoernle 
(1918, 1923), Vedder (1928, 1938), and Schapera (1930). In more recent times 
misconceptions sometimes prevail such as, 'today they [the Hottentots] have 
almost disappeared as a separate entity and our knowledge of their original 
culture is based largely on the records of early travellers and to a less extent on 
archaeological discoveries' (Walton 1956: 19); and 'today all the Hottentots may 
be said to have been assimilated as part of the Coloured community of South 
and South West Africa' and 'except in a few isolated places . . .' had 'abandoned 
their language' (Shaw 1972). 

Through the ready co-operation of the then Department of Coloured, 
Rehoboth and Nama Relations, the writer, accompanied by Jalmar Rudner, 
visited the four main Nama areas in 1972, with a further short visit again to one 
area (Soromas) in 1974, to ascertain whether any traditional uses regarding 
pigments and paints had survived or had been remembered. A surprising 
amount of information came to light in the short time available, including 
customs and traditions outside the scope of this project. 

The early travellers and writers did not always give the reasons for cosmetic 
and other practices, and hardly made any attempt to find out. It is only by 
gathering together all the small, scattered items of information that any real 
evidence emerges. From the last century onwards, when more detailed studies 
were undertaken, many of the old customs had already been adapted or lost. In 
the investigation regarding the present-day Nama, it was found that the people 
could not, or perhaps would not, always give explanations for particular uses of 


paints and salves, etc. According to the late missionary A. Albat of Berseba 
(1972 pers. comm.), who worked among the Nama for several decades, particu- 
larly at Bethanien where he established the Schmelen-huis museum, many old 
rituals or remnants of rituals are still being observed today, but the people do 
not reveal them all, especially not to missionaries, nor do they say or know why 
they are still practised. He believed that fear and superstition are the real 
reasons, that Christianity had not yet freed all from this fear and the old 
customs. He referred to a church wedding to take place that day, and added that 
for some time already it would have been preceded by typical old Nama rites, 
which had been modified by time; it was a pity, he said, that there was nothing 
left that was wholly original, but neither had everything become new: 'Jammer is 
dat daar niks meer is wat regtig oorspronklik is nie, maar ook nie dat alles nuut 
geword het nie.' 

Some of the Nama people who were interviewed belonged to the ancestral 
groups collectively known as Orlams, remnants of various Cape tribes who had 
migrated from south of the Orange River in the early nineteenth century; they 
had a considerable amount of white blood, and already at that time many spoke 
Dutch and much of their original culture had become modified (see Schapera 
1930: 224 ff.; Vedder 1938: 171 ff., 196 ff.). It is remarkable, therefore, that the 
language and so many customs do still exist amoung the Nama people. 

The people in the reserves usually choose to live under a certain headman, 
not necessarily that of their own ancestral tribe. Where possible, the tribal group 
of an interviewee was established. There are also some Bergdama (officially now 
Damara) people living among them who chose to remain with the Nama instead 
of living in their own territory in the north-west. In early times the Bergdama 
were the serfs or slaves of the Nama and the Herero, and adopted the language 
and some of the customs of the Nama (Vedder 1938: 35 et seq.). Although poor, 
the people in the reserves were found to be incredibly neat and tidy, polite and 
willing to be interviewed. The tape-recorded interviews were mainly with 
pensioners who found group interviews less tiring than when they were inter- 
viewed singly. Leading questions were avoided except very occasionally when 
really necessary — the risk of the question influencing the informant had to be 
weighed against possible loss of information. It was almost always necessary to 
have the help of an interpreter as many of the old people seemed to know little, 
if any, Afrikaans, and preferred to speak in Nama, but some of the old men 
replied in Afrikaans or, sometimes, in German. 

Information gathered for the writer by officials of the relevant government 
department prior to the visits to the Nama is also included here. 

In this section the data are given before the discussion and summary. 



This reserve lies south of Mariental. The Fish River runs through the territory near to the 
main village of Gibeon. Thanks to Mr Beukes, a coloured man employed by the administration 


at Gibeon who assisted with the interviews and interpreted in fluent Nama, a great deal of 
information was gained at the village itself and at the small settlement near by, Kranzplatz. The 
headman was 'Captain' ('Kaptein' as he called himself) Witbooi, of Orlam descent. 

1. Informant: young son-in-law of 'Captain' Witbooi, who spoke Afrikaans. 

Ground red ochre, 'rooiklip', is used by the women to paint their faces and legs. Patterns 
are made on the legs by scratching through the paint with the finger-nails. 

When shoes are made for the women by the men, ground 'rooiklip' mixed with water is 
used to colour the shoes. 

A beautifully made triangular 'abbakaros' (carry-kaross) of soft goatskin, coloured with 
red ochre, was shown; it was edged with colourful cotton cloth. 

A woman had a piece of red ochre to show. This she used occasionally for facial paint, she 

2. Informant: Magrieta Beukes {nee De Boom), midwife and coloured wife of Mr Beukes, who 
spoke Afrikaans as well as Nama and knew some of the customs. 

'Rooiklip' mixed with raw, chewed goat fat, is still used as a facial paint — the informant 
also sometimes uses it. It is called boro. In early times boro was used as a cleanser too — it was 
rubbed on the legs and then washed off. Paint is washed off before going to bed. It is not used 
by a woman who is ill. A woman wearing boro will not look at a corpse for fear that the paint 
cannot be washed off again. 

When a woman has had a child and is not ill afterwards, she is rubbed all over with the red 
ochre paint; when she goes out she makes herself up with the paint. If she were to die with the 
paint on her, they believe that it will not be possible to get it off, that is why it is not applied 
when she is ill. 

The brown, ground bark of the camel-thorn tree is rubbed on when a woman has infection 
of the sexual organs; it draws the inflamation ('fire') — 'hy trek die vuur*. (Sometimes the word 
'bark' was used, sometimes 'wood' by the interviewees and it was not always clear what they 
meant exactly.) 

Black pigment is not used; the dark-brown 'gemsbok' face (see below) is painted with the 
dry, powdered root of the camel-thorn tree mixed with chewed, hard fat, water, or sometimes 
Vaseline. She showed a piece of the wood that someone had fetched from a house. 

The informant knew of berry juice being used to paint the face by women in the south of 
South West Africa, but it was not available at Gibeon; the berry is yellow, edible and grows on 
a bush, 'sambiesiebos'. 

In the process of tanning leather with the elandsboontjie root (basi), the leather becomes 
red. The informant had a large sack of the dried root. She demonstrated how it was pounded 
up with a stone pestle on a large, flat grinding-stone kept outside the house. The root is soaked 
in water, not too long, otherwise it becomes too dark, the skin is rubbed with it, and the red 
colour remains as long as the skin lasts. The brown bark of a tree (unspecified but probably an 
acacia) is also used for tanning and also colours the leather red. The bark of the camel-thorn 
tree makes skins brown. 

3. Informant: a Bergdama woman, middle-aged, dressed in traditional nineteenth century 
'missionary' dress consisting of long skirt with several underskirts, and tight bodice. 

She used 'rooiklip' she said, and had a piece, but she was not wearing any at the time. 

4. Informants: a group of women of various ages, mainly Bondelswarts ('Bondels') from the 
south. The older women were in traditional long dresses. Some spoke only Nama. 

A Bondelswart woman said that the 'rooiklip* is unobtainable at Gibeon. Those who do 
not have any use the camel-thorn root and chewed, hard fat. such as kidney fat. and smear the 
whole face with the salve as protection against the sun. . The face is first washed with water 
before the paint is applied. 

One woman had her face painted brown with the above-mentioned paint (Fig. 1A, 
frontispiece). She had a sample of the wood: it has to be dry and rotten, almost powdery. This 
is also used as a sweet-smelling powder or buchu. 

A few of the women had precious pieces of 'rooiklip'. Some younger ones had painted 
their faces (unprompted) with the red ochre salve. Mr Beukes drew wavy lines with a small 
stick on one painted face to show how it was done. 

Red ochre paint is also used on the legs. Only red, brown, and yellow paints are used. 


By the time the interviews were over there was a flush of ochre-painted faces waiting to be 
photographed. The woman with the brown paint on her face had by then also painted her legs. 

One woman had a tortoise-shell container with the aromatic camel-thorn powder (buchu) 
and a piece of cat-skin for a powder-puff in it. The aperture of the shell had been closed, she 
said, with a mixture made of the salivary glands of a sheep pounded with charcoal. 

5. Informants: a group of people at Kranzplatz, a small settlement some distance from the main 
village. Among the people were a few Bergdama (one man had been born there). There was 
some intermarriage here between Nama and Bergdama. The interviews were conducted in 
Afrikaans, German, and Nama. - 

On our arrival, Mr Beukes went to a house and asked a Nama woman, Elizabeth Araes, a 
'Bersebaner', to paint a 'gemsbok face'. She later joined the group being interviewed, with her 
face painted with the dark paint of brown camel-thorn wood and fat, which she had had ready 
prepared. The paint covered her face except round the eyes and mouth and it looked most 
striking and attractive with the dark mask standing out sharply on her light yellow-brown skin 
(Fig. IB). 

Before the woman appeared, one of the Bergdama men mentioned the 'gemsbok face'. He 
said that the Bergdama women among the Nama use facial paint, but they do not use it in the 
north, where they use only fat or Vaseline. The Nama, he said, used red ochre and also painted 
their legs: 'Bei die Naman farben sie die Gesichte, nicht dariiben. Die Klipkaffern haben keine 
Farben gebraucht, Vaseline, Fett und so, aber die Hottentotten haben die Roteklip, und sie 
haben auch die Beinen gemacht.' 

Several of the other women present, young and old, had red ochre paint (unpatterned) on 
their faces without having known of our coming. One older woman's face was painted with a 
mask-like effect (Fig. 1C). Raw, chewed intestinal fat, specially kidney fat, was used, they said. 
They were also originally 'Bersebaners'. 

This group also gave the following information — the Nama words were written down by a 
young schoolgirl: red ochre or 'rooiklip' is Inaui; a fungus used for yellow facial paint is Ihoa 
sdi; a tortoise-shell (luros) containing buchu made from dried, powdered annuals ('opslag', 
lontsib or lontaii) from the river was shown. The bottom aperture in the shell had been closed 
with a mixture of fat and pounded charcoal. There was another tortoise-shell containing buchu 
that had been closed with gum {heir a). They also used pounded glands {Idantsi =£om) and 
charcoal to close the shells. Other buchu is called =kgaii. The yellow buchu made from 
powdered bark is 4nunu. Elandsboontjie is basi. 

6. Informant: C. J. Mostert, Superintendent, Gibeon. 

Facial paints are still regularly used by the women at Gibeon. Colours are red, light-red, 
brown and yellowish, and are obtained from red ochre (\naup), brown powdered wood (\gaob) 
(his spellings) and the bark of the camel-thorn tree. All are mixed with fat and the paints are 
applied with the fingers. The red paint (boro) is used to make the skin soft and shiny, and also 
lighter. Mr Mostert supplied samples of the ingredients for paints. 

Other samples were collected at Gibeon from several of the informants. 


The reserve is just north of Keetmanshoop. The original Catholic mission and settlement 
was established at a spring. Sergeant Bam, of Tses, a Bergdama of mixed descent living among 
the Nama, interpreted during a visit with the Superintendent, J. D. Meyer, to a tiny settlement 
in the northern corner of Berseba, another reserve, only a few kilometres from Tses (see 
below). There was little luck the following day at Tses itself, mainly due to lack of an 

1. Informant: Tjougoed Dousap (author's spelling) of the Rooinasie, an old man of 83, born at 

He remembered the use of facial paint but said it w^as seldom used now. The pigment came 
from pounded wood, 'die kleur van die houte', and 'rooisteen'. It was mixed with any kind of 
finely ground fat and rubbed over the whole face, parts of which were then wiped clean with a 
cloth to form patterns or, sometimes, to make the face of a gemsbok: 'Dan vat hulle daarso 'n 
lappetjie en dan maak hulle daarso kolletjies met die lap . . . die gensbokke die gesig, party.' 
In the absence of fat, the pigment was mixed with water. They also used charcoal, again making 
patterns with a rag: 'Dan vat hulle daarso die kooletjies, dan maak hulle dit saf en smeer hulle 



daarmee . . . vat hulle daar 'n lap en dan maak hulle daarso skeiding, hierso.' This information 
about black is suspect, however, as it followed an inadvertent leading question. 

2. Informant: J. D. Meyer, Superintendent, Tses. 

'Rooisteen' (naub — his spelling), mixed with fat or water, is applied to the face with the 
fingers, and sometimes to arms and legs. Red ochre is also used to colour shoes and the 
'abbakaros'. The cosmetic paint is used now by the old women only. 


The Fish River flows along the northern boundary of the reserve, a few kilometres from 
Tses, and then through the reserve. Orlams from the Cape obtained settlement rights from 
'King' Oasib of the Rooinasie. The main settlement and mission, situated at a fountain, was 
established in 1850. The extinct volcano, Brukkaros, is in this reserve. The Headman, Pastor 
Goliath, was the interpreter and much additional information was obtained from Pastor A. 
Albat, the German Rhenish missionary. (His sermons in Afrikaans were translated into Nama 
at the request of the old people.) An old man, Simon Vleermuis, was interviewed on the eighth 
day following his 100th birthday — he added to information given by the interpreter, Pastor 
Goliath, but none of it was related to this particular survey. 

As noted above, Sergeant Bam of Tses interpreted at a small settlement in the northern 
corner of the Berseba reserve. He also wrote down the Nama words (see informants 1 and 2 

Additional information about this area was supplied by W. Smith, formerly Superintendent 
at Berseba, later Chief Superintendent stationed at Keetmanshoop. 

1. Informant: Christina Derkse, 70 years old, born at Koes, a Veldskoendraer. She spoke only 
Nama and was wearing red ochre paint on her face: she showed that the pigment came from a 
very large block of haematite (/awa \au) from which she chopped a piece with an axe (Fig. 11). 

Fig. 11. Nama woman (Veldskoendraer) outside her hut, northern Berseba. using an axe to 
chop off a piece of red ochre; she is wearing the salve of red ochre and chewed raw tat. 



She ground the piece on a large, slightly hollow stone mortar, using a round river pebble as a 
pestle (Fig. 12) with a rocking movement until the ochre was broken up and fairly fine, then 
ground it to a fine powder with a circular movement. She said that this is mixed with the 
internal, hard goat's fat ('harde binnevet'), which is chewed fine and then spat on to the 
powdered ochre. These days they also use Vaseline. The paint is rubbed all over the face, also 
on hands and arms, and is used on any occasion as a facial cosmetic or salve and to improve a 
bad skin: 'Sommer net vir die gesig, as jy slegte gesig het', said the interpreter. 

Fig. 12. Red ochre and grinding-stones used by the woman in northern 
Berseba (Fig. 11). Note the dung floor that extends round the outside of the 


Yellow pigment is obtained from a fungus, which emerges after rain, called 'hasiepoeier' 
(rabbit powder) (ua sd). 

The hand-made shoes ('velskoene') used to be coloured with the red ochre, but it is not 
often done these days. She did not know of any part of the hut being coloured with ochre (see 
elsewhere below). 

The hut floors and the surrounding area were smoothly plastered with dung (Fig. 12). On 
one side, in the dung floor, was a basin-shaped hollow in which the dung and water had been 

2 Informants: a middle-aged woman in long traditional dress, who spoke only Nama, and an 
elderly man who could reply in Afrikaans; both were 'Bersebaners' (Orlam, Toua). 

The woman had a small tin containing the red paint of ground red ochre and fat. She also 
had a yellow paint in a tin made from the spores of the fungus mentioned above, also mixed 
with fat (they specified sheep fat). She was wearing patches of the red paint on her face. Only 
these two colours are used, they said. The fungus can be brown, too. The paint can be applied 
at any time, perhaps for a week and then not again for a week: 'Miskien 'n week maak hy dit 
elke dag en een week maak hy dit nie.' 

The man said that when a young woman has had a baby, she applies the red or yellow 
paint (it does not matter which) to her legs so that they can be clean: 'Sodat hulle altyd kan 
skoon bly.' The paint is rubbed on and later washed off, leaving the skin specially smooth and 
clean: 'Maak dit die vel mooi glad en gee hy die spesiale skoonheid.' 

Before going visiting, even young female children have the paint applied to their faces a 
few days before the time. When it is washed off it leaves the skin smooth and specially clean. If 
the entire body is to be cleaned, the ochre is mixed with water. If the paint, boro, is on the face 


the wearer will not look at a corpse for fear that she will not be able to wash off the boro. They 
did not know why, but it is 'a very old story'. 

The red ochre is ground on a grinding-stone — there was one that was used for the purpose 
lying near the hut. 

The red ochre (spelt naui by Sergeant Bam) is also used for colouring the 'abbakaros'. 

A red cosmetic powder is obtained from the wood of an acacia (not camel-thorn) tree. 

The man described the making of a clay pot, which he remembered — before firing it was 
rubbed with fat, plastered with dung, and then placed in the fire. 

3. Informant: Pastor Goliath, Orlam, at least 70 years old, at the main village, Berseba. 

He remembered seeing women with red patterns on their faces*. 'Velskoene' and 'abbakar- 
osse' were also coloured with red ochre and fat (he did not say whether as a mixture or used 
separately). The 'rooiklip' was scarce in the area. 

Wood (bark?) of an acacia (not camel-thorn) tree is pounded with a round stone on a flat 
grinding-stone, 'met die ronde klip op die platte klip', soaked in water and smeared on to hides 
to tan them, thereby giving them a red colour. Hides are smeared with tail fat to soften them. 

4. Informant: Elisabeth Isak, an old woman in long traditional dress, who replied in Nama. 

She had a piece of red ochre that she had fetched previously from the hills in the veld. 
When mixed with fat it is smeared all over her face; sometimes she uses only fat. She also uses 
Vaseline with which to mix the ochre paint. 

5. Informant: Pastor A. Albat, Rhenish missionary. 

Yellow-brown pigment for facial paint (sdi) is obtained from a fungus. Red or red-brown 
comes from red ochre (Inaup). The pigments are mixed with fat and kept in horn containers. 
The salves protect the skin against the sun. He did not know of any instance where specularite 
was used. 

The gemsbok face (see Gibeon informants) was originally painted when a journey had to 
be undertaken, in order to deceive the spirits so that they would not know that a person had 
left the house; they returned with another face: '. . . om die geeste te mislei, dat hulle nie sien 
dat dit 'n regte persoon is wat daar weggaan . . . hulle kom met 'n ander gesig terug.' This paint 
is made from the dark-brown powder made from the camel-thorn wood (root?) and fat. 

He said that everywhere in old Hottentot heathen graves there are signs that the corpses 
had been rubbed over, or sprinkled, with red ochre powder. 

Herbal plants, one of which grew in the mission garden, are dried and crushed for buchu 
for use on the body to give a pleasant smell. A certain grass is also used. The black, inner wood 
of a certain acacia, not camel-thorn, is also used as a pigment. 

A piece of quartz is heated in the fire and placed under the skirts of a woman who has to 
sit on it as on an egg. When it is cold, it is ground on a stone and used as a sweet-smelling 
powder; when mixed with the fat of an ox or a goat it becomes a facial paint. The woman who 
has to sit on the quartz must not be pregnant or have her periods, otherwise the powder will be 

The missionary had the pelvic bones of a goat {llhau-lkob or Inami-lkob), coloured with 
red ochre. It came from a goat eaten at the end of the initiation ceremony for girls and serves as 
a protective measure ('Schutzmittel') for the woman — it hangs either over her sleeping-place or 
in a tree near the house. It is supposed to prevent the disarticulation of the pelvis during 

He had found old pots that had been coloured with red ochre. He said that the painting of 
objects was associated with their beliefs. 

6. Informant: W. Smith, Chief Superintendent, Keetmanshoop, previously at Berseba. 

Facial paints are still used. The paint is called ! naui or boro-dm. Ground red ochre, mixed 
with fat, is applied to the face with the fingers in the form of lines and dots, i.e. in patterns. 
Colours range from pale red to dark brown. The various tribes make different patterns, e.g. the 
Rooinasie apply the paint to the entire face and then wipe away some of it with a cloth to form 
the face of a gemsbok. 

A Nama woman will not look at a corpse when wearing boro as she believes that she will 
not be able to remove the paint again. 

Shoes, 'abbakarosse' and animal skins, as well as the internal wooden frame of the 
traditional Nama hut are also coloured with red ochre. 


When skins are tanned with the bark of thorn trees ('doringbome', llkhtis) (acacia?), they 
become red or brown. To obtain a light-yellow colour the skins are tanned with the bark of the 
'melkhout' tree {lluis). 


The original mission was established in 1814 by Schmelen at Bethanien, some 25 km away, 
now a white town. The Bethanien people had been mainly Orlams from the Cape. In 1972 the 
small population in the Isaksbrunn settlement, which we visited, consisted almost entirely of old 
people from various tribal groups, which was one of the reasons why the survey had so much 
success there. In 1974, with the second brief visit, there were many more young people, 
especially children. On the second occasion a very large group of about 30 women, many 
elderly, were interviewed together, deliberately without the presence of men or children, so 
that information withheld during the previous group interviews came to light. A younger 
woman had to interpret as nearly all the replies were in Nama, whether from young or old. 
Almost all the women were dressed in traditional long skirts with tight bodices. Ouderling 
(Elder) Swartbooi (his mother was a Swartbooi) arranged the group discussions and interviews 
on both occasions and interpreted on the first visit. 

As the tape-recorded information from so many interviewees was in no order at all, it is 
here arranged under various headings. 

Cosmetic paints 

Powdered red ochre, ground between stones, is mixed with fat for facial paints. During an 
interview, a woman ground a piece from her small skin pouch with a stone pestle on a fiat 
grinding-stone fetched from a near-by hut, then she and another mixed it with water (they said 
they should have used animal fat) and applied it to their faces with the fingers, using a pocket 
mirror. They left their mouths and large circles round the eyes unpainted, giving the appear- 
ance of masks (Fig. ID). 

A woman would use the red paint on her face especially after illness or after childbirth, to 
make her feel better and to be different: 'Dan is sy bietjie verander.' 

In early years the women also painted their legs, but they no longer did so in these parts. 
However, when we later in the day called at the house of the headman, Simon Boois, several 
kilometres away, his adult daughter, knowing of our coming but unprompted, had painted her 
face as well as her legs with red ochre. The paint was dotted over her face and wavy lines had 
been scratched in the paint on her legs. 

A brown cosmetic paint for the face is made from ground camel-thorn wood mixed with 
raw, chewed intestinal fat ('binnevet'). Butter is sometimes mixed with the ochre. 

Ouderling Swartbooi said that bat droppings, mixed with water (not fat) were also used for 
a dark-brown facial paint. This was confirmed by a woman. When asked whether 'dassiepis' 
(hyraxeum) was meant, she denied this and said that there are various kinds of things that are 
always smeared on the faces; there are also the things that have 'fallen under the stone', the 
droppings of bats, which they take: 'Daar is verskillende soorte goete wat hulle altyd aan die 
gesigte smeer. Daar is ook dinge wat onder die klip geval het, die vlermuis se mis, vat hulle 
ook.' When again questioned on this in 1974, a woman confirmed that bat droppings were 
sometimes used. They distinguished between 'dassiemis', the dry dassie manure which is used 
as a medicine with water, and 'klipsweet' or 'dassiepis' which is used with fat on the face. They 
said that dassie manure is drunk (i.e. used medicinally), while hyraxeum is smeared on the face, 
that they are two things: 'Dassiemis word gedrink, klipsweet word aan die gesig gesmeer; 
klipsweet en dassiemis is twee dinge.' 

The gemsbok face was unknown here. 

Specularite was unknown. 


Apart from being a medium for cosmetic paints, fat has other uses. It is used alone as a 
cosmetic and as a cleanser; 'smeervet' (smearing-fat) is used to massage someone who is ill or 
to massage a woman in labour; in the old days a new-born mother and her baby were cleaned 
with fat. Butter is made in a calabash and used for eating or smearing in illness; sometimes it is 
mixed with red ochre. Marrow and cream are used for smearing, if available. A barren woman 
is smeared with fat at frequent intervals. 



During initiation, at her first menstrual period, the young girl is smeared with the paint 
made of red ochre and fat. She may not use water. Then a paint of certain berries (also used 
when tanning skins) and fat is applied and wiped off, leaving her skin clean. This had been the 
practice among the Nama at Bethanien but it was not clear whether or not it had been 
discontinued. A widow was also cleansed with the berries and fat. 

The intact pelvic bones of a goat, coloured with red ochre, were hung in the young 
initiate's hut to facilitate the birth of future children. 

They knew of no initiation ceremony at all for boys. Circumcision, they said, was practised 
'by the Xhosa and Herero', not by the Nama. 

For her marriage, a woman applies plain fat to her face — it is not customary to use the red 
paint on that occasion. 

Corpses are washed with soap and water — they did not know of red ochre ever being used. 

There was no memory of urine being used in ceremonies. When the women were later told 
of the old initiation ceremonies for boys, etc., they expressed disgust. 

Colouring and fat on skin objects 

An old man showed a beautifully made, small pair of 'velskoene' that he had made for his 
old wife; she had then coloured them on the outside with ground red ochre mixed with water: 
'Sy sit die rooi aan, ek maak net die skoene.' 

A neatly made apron of soft, tanned sheepskin (without the hair) and trimmed with 
colourful bits of cloth, had also been coloured with red ochre — 'met die klip' — mixed with 

There were several small bags made from the entire skin of a kid, with the hairy side 
inwards. Most of them had been coloured with red ochre. They were used for holding a variety 
of things, including tea, tobacco, or buchu. 

A tiny tobacco pouch made from the tanned reticulum ('kleinpens', 'blaarpens') of a goat, 
and showing the distinctive 'tripe' pattern, was trimmed along the sides and opening with pieces 
of colourful cotton cloth. It had been coloured bright yellow with the flowers of a small bush, 
sampree. The flowers are used fresh or dried and dampened with spit or water, then rubbed 
over the pouch to give it colour. (After 9 years the yellow on the side exposed to indirect 
sunlight where it hangs on a wall has faded.) A small bag of goatskin had been similarly 
coloured after first having been softened with fat. 

Buchu and powders 

The dark-brown powder made from camel-thorn wood was used not only for cosmetic 
paint but also against infection in females, such as infection after childbirth. It is seldom used 
today, said the women, when Dettol or a modern medicinal powder is used. 

A yellow aromatic powder for sprinkling over the body is obtained from the inner stem of 
the camel-thorn tree. This is not used in this area as a paint, where only red paint is used: 'Die 
geel is van die kameelboom maar hierdie land se mense gebruik net die rooi verf.' 

Another aromatic powder is obtained mainly from the rotted (dry) root of a thorn tree. 
There are few trees that can be used, they said. Aromatic plants for buchu are also very difficult 
to obtain, no doubt because of the arid, over-grazed nature of the veld. 

Buchu is also made from a bush, Inoei. 

A yellow powder made from a fungus is used as a medicine on the body when the skin 
appears jaundiced. 

Containers for fat, buchu, etc. 

There were a small calabash, a container of ox-horn, and several tortoise-shell containers 
(Fig 13) with buchu in them and a piece of 'cat-skin' ('katvel') for a powder-puff. The red ochre 
paint is also kept in horn and calabash containers, they said, but there did not appear to be any 
of it prepared. The lower apertures of the tortoise-shells are closed with the salivary glands of a 
goat or sheep pounded into a paste with charcoal. 

Fat for rubbing over the body for massage ('smeervet') is kept in a cylindrical container of 
ox-horn (Fig. 14): the lower end is covered by stretching a piece of wet, untanned skin ("rou 
vel') over it, while a lid is similarly made. The fat is smeared on with a bit of sheepskin 
impregnated with the fat and kept in the container: 'As daar vet op is, dan het daardie vel altyd 
nog vet daaraan.' 



Fig. 13. Tortoise-shell container filled with buchu. The lower apertures had 

been closed with a paste made of the salivary glands of a goat or sheep and, 

charcoal (Nama, Soromas). 

Fig. 14. Container of ox-horn for fat that is used for smearing (Nama, 




In early years a line of blood was drawn on the stomachs of mourners, the women said, 
because mourners naturally looked bad and lacked appetite; it helped them: 'Dan is jy nie baie 
mooi die dag nie, dan het jy nie lus vir die kos nie, en as jy so gemaak het, dan help dit.' The 
line could be made with black too. 

Blood is eaten by the relatives after a funeral. It is first stirred with a three-pronged stick or 
a bunch of twigs to remove the fibrin and to prevent it from congealing. Then it is boiled with 
pluck and eaten. In early times an axe was heated in the fire and also placed in the pot, but this 
is no longer done. The reason for this practice was not given. 

This information about blood, as with other information, was given without prompting. 


Where fat was used as a cleanser in early days and is still sometimes used today, it has been 
largely replaced by water in many instances. So, after childbirth, a woman is washed with 
water. A corpse is cleansed with soap and water. In old days, they said, when water was scarce, 
liquid was squeezed from the stomach contents of an animal for use. 


In 1956 at Klein Karas, in the south of South West Africa, there was a young, light-skinned 
Bondelswart girl who had painted large red dots on her face (Fig. 15). It had not been done for 
any particular occasion. She said the red could come from ochre or, in this case, the berries of a 
small plant. Black pigment was obtained from the inner root of the camel-thorn tree. 

An old Nama man from the same farm said the red pigment came from berries or from red 
ochre. Black was from pots or charcoal ground with fat. 

Fig. 15. Bondelswart girl, Klein Karas 1956, 

with large red dots on her face. The pigment 

was the juice of berries. 



The relevant information in the data section above is set out in tables here; 
it was found not necessary to draw a distinction between 'mixed with' (e.g. fat) 
and 'used with' as with the data on the historical Hottentots. 

A considerable number of traditional practices associated with pigments and 
paints were found to exist among the Nama of today. Leading questions may 
have elicited more information but of a doubtful nature, and more data on 
surviving customs could possibly be obtained by someone in close and lengthy 
contact with the older people. However, a detailed ethnological study is not 
within the scope of this project. 

The various substances are discussed under headings as in the section on 
historical Hottentots. 


Fat is an important item of food for the Nama, and is equally important as a 
smearing agent or remedy and a cosmetic, although it is now used to a lesser 
extent than in earlier times (Table 21). 

These days animal fats are less readily available than in historical times. 
Hunting is no longer possible and relatively few of the Nama possess stock; 
grazing in their areas is poor and limited. However, where animal fat was 
identified in the interviews, that of sheep or goats was mentioned, and some- 
times cattle. Goat fat, although not traditional, is possibly used the most as goats 
constitute the main stock of the Nama today. 

Fat is used mainly by the women, especially as a cosmetic and for making 
facial paints (see pigments below). Raw, chewed intestinal fat, such as kidney 
fat, is almost always used for mixing with the pigments; the masticated fat is spat 
into a container and the presence of saliva forms a kind of emulsion — emulsions 
are the basis of modern cosmetic salves. Schultze (1907) noted this practice 
among the Nama, but other records regarding it have not been traced. 

Vaseline may be used instead of animal fat, and at Soromas (Isaksbrunn 
village) the women mentioned that butter is sometimes mixed with red ochre for 
a cosmetic paint. These women, mainly Bethanien people, remembered butter 
being churned in a calabash. 

The paints are used on faces, not only for their appearance, but for 
protection against sun and weather, to soften and lighten the skin, and to 
cleanse the skin. They may be used on hands, legs and arms too. Even very 
young girl children have their faces cleansed in this way before going visiting. 

Fat, mixed with pigments, is still used on the body in female initiation and 
to cleanse a widow. Fat only is used as a cosmetic in the marriage ceremony, 
according to the women at Soromas. According to a midwife at Gibeon, after 
childbirth a woman's body is still smeared with fat in the traditional way 
(possibly as a cleanser), but at Soromas some of the old women said that the 
smearing of the mother (and baby) was now past practice. At Gibeon, the 
midwife remembered that cosmetic paints of fat and pigments had been smeared 


on a woman's legs for cleansing, especially after childbirth. One informant 
(J. D. Meyer) believed that only old women now use the red ochre paint, but 
information obtained elsewhere during the survey proved otherwise. 

According to a Bergdama informant, the Bergdama women living among 
the Nama have adopted their custom of using facial paints made of fat and 
pigments, but traditionally the Bergdama living in their territory in the north use 
only fat or Vaseline. However, according to Lebzelter (1934: 117-139) they also 
used red ochre — it is not clear of which Bergdama he was writing. 

People who are ill are massaged with fat, and so are barren women and 
women in labour. 

The Soromas women said that butter, cream, or marrow could also be used 
for smearing, but this followed a leading question and evidence that cream and 
marrow were used in this way in the past has not come to light: as noted in the 
previous section, the Kora used cream for smearing. 

Fat is used extensively for softening animal skins and hides. An old Orlam 
man remembered that clay pots were smeared with fat (and dung) before firing. 

The traditional containers of ox-horn for fat are still sometimes used (Fig. 
14), and the paints of fat and pigments are kept in small horn containers, small 
calabashes, and small tins, etc. 

At Berseba a tortoise-shell container for buchu was seen that had the lower 
aperture closed with a mixture of fat and charcoal, but elsewhere the mixture 
was of pounded salivary glands and charcoal. Schultze (1907) recorded such use 
of cattle glands by the Nama. The Kora also made use of these mixtures in the 
same way (Engelbrecht 1936), but other such references were not found. 


Little information was given about the use of dung (Table 22). It is used 
mainly with water to smear the hut floors and also, as was seen at Berseba, the 
entire area surrounding the huts (Fig. 12). 

According to information obtained in Soromas, dry dassie dung is mixed 
with water for medicine. 'Klipsweet' (dassie urine with some dung) (Fig. 4) is 
mixed with fat for a facial paint — Schultze recorded in 1907 that the Nama 
mixed this with water for a paint. Bat droppings are mixed with water, not fat, 
for a facial paint — other records of its use have not been found. 

An Orlam man at Berseba remembered that clay pots were smeared with 
fat and then plastered with dung before firing. 

The people who were interviewed could not remember other uses for dung, 
but there may still be some memory of old rites and practices. Among some of 
the coloured people in South Africa, dung still serves as a poultice for various 
ills, and one old Boer remedy is still to place a child who has whooping-cough in 
a pile of manure to clear his chest (P. Pretorius, South African Museum, 1977 
pers. comm.); 'klipsweet' is still occasionally sold by chemists for concocting 
home remedies. 

Table 21 
Fat used by the present-day Nama. 


M. Beukes, Gibeon 

M. Beukes, Gibeon 

M. Beukes, Gibeon 

Bondelswart \ 

Bondelswart \ 

Raw, chewed 

RoikleKwart woman, 

E. Araes, Bersebaner, 

Bergdama man. 

Women, Bersebaners, 

With brown powdered wood, 
gemsbok face demonstrated 
Bergdama in north use fat only, 
here use pigments too 

C. J. Mostert, Gibeon 

With red ochre, brown wood, 
yellow bark of camel-thorn 
Red ochre and fat or water 
With red ochre or powdered wood 

With ra 

w, chewed fat, red ochre, 
hands; Vaseline may be 

With ye/low fungus 


Pastor Goliath, Orlam, 

E. Isak, Berseba 

E. Isak, Berseba 
Pastor A. Albat, 

Pastor A. Albat, 

Pastor A. Albat, 

Women, Soromas 

fungus paint in tins 
Above paints used after child- 
birth, then washed off 
Girl children, applied then washed 
off, before visiting 

Remembered clay pots smeared 
with fat and dung, then fired 
On veld-shoes, 'abbakaros' 

Fat could be used alone 
With red ochre, yellow-brow 
from fungus, in horn; against su: 
With brown camel-thorn wooc 
gemsbok face to deceive spirits 
With heated crushed quartz; alsi 

With red ochre, specially after ill 

Women, Soromas 

Daughter of 

Simon Boois, Orlam, 

Ouderling Swartbooi, 

Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas 

Women, Soromas 

Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas 

Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas 

Raw, chewed 

For massaging ill persons 

For massaging barren women, 

women in labour; kept in ox-horn 

Made in calabash, for eating and 


For smearing 

With red ochre, initiate 

With berries; used after red ochre 

salve, initiate at Bethanien 

With berries; to cleanse widow 

Fat only for marriage rites 

For softening hides 



Table 22 
Dung used by the present-day Nama. 

C. Derkse, Veldskoendraer, 

Orlam man, Berseba 
Women, Soromas 

Floors of huts and surroundings smeared with dung and 

Remembered clay pots smeared with fat and dung before 

Dry dassie dung (not hyraxeum) mixed with water for 

Hyraxeum mixed with fat for paint 

Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas; 
Ouderling Swartbooi, Soromas Bat droppings and water for cosmetic paint 


The only information obtained from the Nama about the use of urine was 
that from Soromas regarding the mixture of 'klipsweet' and fat for a facial paint. 
Hyraxeum is probably still used as a remedy, although they mentioned only that 
the dry dung of dassies was used medicinally. As shown in the previous section 
and Table 7, various authors recorded the use of hyraxeum for medicinal 
purposes, specially among the Nama in this century. 

The aversion expressed by the women in Soromas when told of the use of 
urine in old rituals, particularly in male initiation, does not necessarily mean that 
all memory of such ritual use has been lost, for as late as the middle of the last 
century it was recorded by Tindall (1839-55). According to these women, there 
is no longer an initiation ceremony for boys. 


Several early travellers described the butchering procedure of the historical 
Hottentots in which the blood was retained, as well as various ritual uses (Table 
8). The Nama still make use of blood for food and for ritual purposes (Table 


Table 23 
Blood used by the present-day Nama. 

Women, Soromas In early years line of blood made on stomachs of mourners; helped 

against bad appetite 
Women, Soromas Cooked blood is eaten after a funeral ; in early years a heated axe was 

placed in the pot 

From Soromas came the information that in early times a line of blood was 
made on the stomachs of mourners; it helped them to feel better and gave them 
an appetite; a black line could be made instead of the line of blood. In 1918 
Hoernle recorded the identical information from the Nama, with the reason 
given that it prevented the mourners from getting pains when eating the food. 


Boiled blood is still eaten after a funeral; to prevent it from congealing, it is 
whisked with a special three-pronged stick or with a bunch of twigs to remove 
the fibrin. (On another occasion when the author was testing this with fresh 
blood on a farm near Carnarvon, the coloured laborours said they knew of 
it — see section on theories and experiments.) The blood is cooked with pluck 
(see Kolb 1704-13 and p. 125 herein), and in previous years a heated axe was 
placed in the pot, but the women at Soromas said the axe was no longer used 
and could not give any reason for its use. The mixture is eaten by the relatives. 
Hoernle (1918) noted the heating of blood and herbs for a funeral and that the 
relatives were steamed by stirring a red-hot chopper in the blood, while only 
certain persons ate the blood. 

According to Pastor Albat, certain rituals connected with blood are still 
practised in secret when animals are slaughtered for ceremonies; he remarked 
that some missionaries had tried unsuccessfully to prevent this by encouraging 
the making of blood sausage. 


Some of the Nama remarked that in previous years the stomach contents of 
a slaughtered animal were squeezed for the liquid that was drunk when water 
was scarce, but it was no longer used for any purpose. The only use for this 
liquid that was found in historical records about the Hottentots was that of 
Chapman (1849-63) for the same purpose. 


Few special uses of water (Table 24) were mentioned in the interviews and 
nothing was said about the ritual significance of water recorded by Hoernle 
(1923), but a girl initiate had to avoid water and was cleansed with fat and ochre 
and afterwards with fat and berries, according to women at Soromas. A taboo 
regarding the excessive use of water for cleansing during menstruation exists 
among some coloured and white people in South Africa, e.g. it is believed to be 
unhealthy to be fully immersed in a bath or to wash the hair, but the origin of 
this belief is unknown. 

Water has largely replaced fat as a cleanser, both for everyday use and on 
occasions such as after childbirth. A corpse is cleansed with soap and water. 
Water, instead of fat, is occasionally used with red ochre as a special, usually 
semi-ritual cleanser, and water is used for mixing the cosmetic paints when fat is 
not available, e.g. with red ochre or brown powdered camel-thorn root; but 
when making paint with bat dung water is used. Red ochre is sometimes mixed 
with water before being applied to leather garments. (See Pigments below.) 

Various coloured woods or roots are soaked in water for tanning and 
colouring skins and hides. Hut floors are plastered with a mixture of water and 

Ingredients such as dry dassie dung, and no doubt various medicinal plants, 
are mixed with water for medicines. 



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At Gibeon there was a tortoise-shell container filled with buchu, the 
aperture of which had been closed with gum from a tree. No doubt there are 
other uses for gum, besides as a food enjoyed especially by children — as a child 
the writer and Nama companions frequently collected acacia tree gum for 


No unusual uses for milk, eggs, honey, and plant sap (other than the berries 
used for paints, see plant pigments below) were recorded. 


The Nama who were interviewed said that they use red, yellow, and brown 
pigments only, not black, although black is sometimes used in a funeral rite (see 
soot and charcoal below). 

Ferric oxides 

Red ochre Qnaui or \naup) is used extensively by the Nama (Table 25). The 
people who were interviewed did not know specularite, nor did Pastor Albat 
know of their having used it. However, caches of powdered specularite stored in 
typical Hottentot pots have been found in South West Africa (see section on 
archaeological evidence below). 

The Bergdama who live among the Nama have adopted the use of red 
ochre, but it is apparently not traditional among them. The Topnaars, who live 
isolated mainly around Walvis Bay and the Kuiseb Canyon areas, also still use 
red ochre as a cosmetic (Sandelowsky 1974). 

Cosmetic paints 

The main users of red ochre are women who mix it with fat for a cosmetic 
paint {boro); water is used as a binder only when fat is not available or when the 
entire body is to be cleansed (for which boro is also used), but this is a custom 
now seldom practised. 

The cosmetic paint is generally made with raw, intestinal fat, such as kidney 
fat, which is chewed and spat into a receptacle, the fat and saliva forming an 
emulsion; red ochre or some other pigment is mixed into this. Butter or Vaseline 
are sometimes used instead of fat. Schultze (1907) recorded the use of raw 
chewed fat with red ochre by the Nama, but that was the only such reference 
found in the literature. 

The red ochre is ground on a grinding-stone with a stone pestle — several of 
these were in use (Figs ID, 12). Although red ochre was scarce, as at Gibeon 
and Berseba, many of the women in all the areas had pieces of it for their use 
(Figs 11-12), including Bergdama women, and young as well as old. 

The boro is kept in small, traditional horn or calabash containers, or in little 

Table 25 
Ferric oxides used by the present-day Nama. 

informants, area 




Son-in-law of Capt. Witbooi, 



As above 


As above 

M. Beukes, Gibeon 


M. Beukes, Gibeon 


M. Beukes, Gibeon 



M. Beukes, Gibeon 


Bergdama woman, Gibeon 


Bondelswart woman, Gibeon 


Several younger women, 



Mr Beukes, Gibeon 


Women, Gibeon 
Bergdama man, Kranzplatz 

Women, Kranzplatz 

C. J. Mostert, Gibeon 

T. Dousap, Rooinasie, Tses 

J. D. Meyer, Tses 
J. D. Meyer, Tses 
C. Derkse, Veldskoendraer, 

Orlam i 

n, Berseba 

Orlam man and woman, 

As above 
As above 
As above 
Pastor Goliath, Orlam, 

As above 

E. Isak, Berseba 

Pastor A. Albat, Berseba 

Pastor A. Albat, Berseba 
Pastor A. Albat, Berseba 
Pastor A. Albat, Berseba 
W. Smith, Keetmanshoop 

W. Smith, Keetmanshoop 
Daughter of Simon Boois. 

Orlam, Soromas 
Woman, Soromas 

Women, Soromas 

Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas 
Women, Soromas 
Man, Soromas 

Girl and man, 
Klein Karas, 1956 

Binder not mentioned 

Patterns scratched in paint with nails 

On skin 'abbakaros', veld-shoes 

With raw, chewed goat fat, boro ; used by informant 

As above, in early times, then washed off 

After childbirth 

After childbirth when going out 

She used red ochre 

Not obtainable at Gibeon but some women had 

small pieces for use 

Were wearing the ( 

Demonstrated pattern made with a stick on painted 


Red ochre paint also used on legs 

Cosmetic paint a Nama custom, not a Bergdama 


Were wearing the cosmetic, mixed with raw, chewed 


Paint still in use, applied with the fingers 

Water used if fat not available; patterns or gems- 

bok face 

Fat or water for mixing ; now rarely used 

To colour 'abbakaros', veld-shoes 

Was wearing the cosmetic, mixed with raw, chewed 

goat fat; had large supply of red ochre, used stone 

pestle, mortar 

To colour veld-shoes 

of red and yellow (fungus) paint 

Either of above paints used after childbirth, washed 


Girl children, applied then washed off, before 

visiting - 

To clean entire body 

Red ochre ground on stone seen near hut 

On 'abbakaros' 

Remembered patterns on faces 

On 'abbakaros' and veld-shoes smeared with fat 

With fat or Vaseline; she used it 

Used against sun, kept in horn container; specu- 

larite unknown 

On remains found in old graves 

On pelvic bones of goat at female initiation 

Old clay pots had been coloured red 

Applied with fingers, dots, lines; different tribal 

patterns; Rooinasie use red ochre for gemsbok face 

On 'abbakaros', shoes, hides, hut framework 

Dots on face, wavy lines scratched in paint on her 


Grinds red ochre between stones, paints mask, says 

fat should be used instead of water, specularite 


Used specially after illness, childbirth, to look 

different and feel better; butter sometimes used 

In early times 


On pelvic bones of goat at female initiation 

Paint kept in horn or calabash containers 

Women apply red ochre to shoes made by men 

Apron of sheepskin and cloth, several bags of 

skin, all coloured with red ochre, were seen 

Red ochre used 


Several of the women, young and old, were wearing the boro on their faces 
at the time of the interviews, particularly at Gibeon, but it was not seen in use at 

Boro is used to protect the skin, especially against the sun and cold, to 
soften, to lighten, and to cleanse the skin, especially before going to visit; 
'spesiale skoonheid' (special cleanliness) mentioned by an old man at Berseba is 
reminiscent of the modern so-called 'deep-cleansing'. Even the faces of young 
female children are cleansed with boro for special occasions. 

The boro may be used on arms and legs, too, but this is usually for cleansing 
only, and is washed off again. However, its cosmetic use on legs is remembered, 
particularly with patterns scratched in the paint, and it may still be practised to a 
limited extent. 

The paint is applied with the fingers. Faces are painted in dots, lines or 
patches, or the entire face may be smeared, or it may be only partially smeared 
to create a mask-like effect (Fig. 1C-D). Sometimes wavy lines are scratched in 
the paint with the finger-nails or a small stick, but this is now rare. Different 
tribes have different patterns (W. Smith 1972 pers. coram.). The only other 
references found regarding patterns scratched with finger-nails on painted faces 
and bodies are those of Schreyer (1668) and Cortemiinde (1672) in connection 
with the people at the Gape, and perhaps that of Herbert (in 1627) who noted 
that the layer of soot and fat on faces was 'indented' with fingers. It is 
remarkable that this custom has survived to the present day. 

The Rooinasie, who obtained their name from their use of red ochre, make 
a gemsbok face with the red paint by wiping away excess paint with a cloth, but 
among other groups the gemsbok mask is usually made with a paint of fat and 
powdered brown camel-thorn wood (see plant pigments below). Wikar (1779) 
mentioned that the desired effect on a hunter's blackened face was obtained by 
wiping away some of the paint to leave criss-cross designs, and Schultze (1907) 
noted that the Nama women made blank spaces in the paint with a wet 
finger-tip. He mentioned masks, but a reference to the gemsbok face was not 
found in the literature. 

General uses 

Red ochre, usually mixed with water, is used to colour veld shoes, carry- 
karosses ('abbakarosse'), leather aprons, small leather bags, and tanned animal 
skins. The hut framework is sometimes coloured with red ochre inside, but the 
huts examined during the survey had not been coloured. At Leliefontein, in 
Namaqualand, the hut poles are still smeared with 'red clay' (S ABC-TV 
programme on mat huts ('matjieshuise') 15 August 1978). 

In the past clay pots were coloured with red ochre. 

Ritual uses 

A ritual use for boro is its application to the entire body of the woman after 
childbirth, apparently for cleansing, but at Soromas the women said that the 


woman is washed with water — it may be that this is done beforehand, and that 
the boro is applied afterwards in areas where such use is still made of it. When 
going out afterwards, the woman makes herself up with boro 'to look differ- 
ent' — 'dan is sy bietjie anders' — this is part of the rites of transition or 'anders 
maak' (\nau) described by Hoernle (1918) and dating back at least to historical 
times. According to an Orlam woman, a female initiate was smeared all over 
with boro, then cleansed with a mixture or paint of berry juice and fat; among 
the Kora the paint for this cleansing was made of red ochre and cream (and 
specularite was applied to the hair of both male and female initiates) (Engel- 
brecht 1936). 

Another ritual use for red ochre, apparently on its own, that was noted 
during the survey was the colouring of the intact pelvic bones of a goat (or 
sheep) slaughtered for the female initiation ceremony; this custom was also in 
use among the Kora (Engelbrecht 1936), who used the bones of sheep or 
goats — the Nama would also use the bones of sheep when available. Hoernle 
(1918) noted that these bones were used in the Nama remarriage rites. 

Although the remains in old Nama graves show that corpses had been 
strewn or smeared with red ochre, there was no memory of this among the 
Nama who were interviewed. According to Pastor Albat, the use of red ochre is 
related to ancient beliefs; possibly it is a substitute or symbol for blood. Hahn 
(1881) noted that red ochre symbolized blood among the Nama; according to 
Laidler (1928), the Nama used red ochre medicinally because 'blood is red'. 

Sometimes the Nama interviewees gave a practical reason for the use of red 
ochre, but they have forgotten most of the old beliefs, although Pastor Albat 
maintained that some rites were still practised in secret, including blood rituals. 

During the survey some superstitions connected with the boro came to light: 
the wearer does not go to sleep at night without washing it off (although the 
women with 'streaks of red and yellow ochre on their faces, seen by Ridgill 
(1870) along the Orange River had apparently slept with the paint on, but 
Ridgill may have phrased his sentence badly); a woman who is ill does not use 
boro, for if she were to die while wearing the paint, it is believed that it will not 
be possible to remove it; for the same reason a woman wearing boro will not 
look at a corpse. 

The red ochre gemsbok face of the Rooinasie, mentioned above, could be 
included here as a ritual practice. 

Soot and charcoal 

Apart from the one instance in which women at Soromas said that, instead 
of making a line with blood on the stomachs of mourners, a black line could be 
made, there was no other instance where black pigment was used (Table 26). 
The people said that black was not used, only red, yellow and brown. The use of 
more than one colour at a time was not found in the survey. 

The information from Tses that charcoal had been used for a cosmetic 
pigment is suspect as it followed an inadvertent leading question. 


Table 26 
Soot, charcoal used by the present-day Nama. 

Women, Gibeon Black pigment not used for cosmetics 

Women, Gibeon Apertures of tortoise-shell filled with buchu had been closed with 

paste of charcoal and salivary glands of sheep 
Women, Kranzplatz Apertures of tortoise-shell filled with buchu had been closed with 

paste of fat and charcoal ; the glands are also used 
Women, Soromas Apertures of tortoise-shell filled with buchu had been closed with 

paste of charcoal and salivary glands of sheep or goat 
Women, Soromas A black line is made on stomachs of mourners; blood used in early 

Nama man, Soot, charcoal and fat used for cosmetic pigment 

Klein Karas, 1956 

Charcoal is pounded with the salivary glands of sheep, goats, or cattle to 
make a paste with which the apertures of tortoise-shell containers are closed — 
these are used mainly for buchu powders. Fat is also used with the charcoal for 
such a paste; an alternative substance is gum, without additives. The first two 
mixtures were also used by the Kora (Engelbrecht 1936). 

Plant pigments 

The Nama use various plant pigments for paints (Table 27). The medium is 
usually fat, but sometimes water is used, particularly for dyes where animal skins 
are tanned and coloured simultaneously. Some of these plant pigments have 
additional uses when applied on their own. The various uses are discussed 

Cosmetic uses 

The main use is for cosmetic paints for women, and the main pigment is the 
brown wood or root of the camel-thorn tree, powdered and mixed with raw, 
chewed intestinal fat, but also occasionally with Vaseline or water. It is applied 
to the face as protection against the sun and to soften and lighten the skin; the 
paint is applied in patches (as worn by a woman at Gibeon, Fig. 1A), or in 
patterns, or the gemsbok face is painted with it. This mask, made with this 
paint, is known at Gibeon, and at Kranzplatz near by a woman painted her face 
in that way (Fig. IB) with paint that she had ready mixed; an old man at Tses 
knew of it but said that the Rooinasie made this mask with red ochre paint — this 
was verified by W. Smith (1972 pers. comm.). But the Gemsbok face was 
apparently no longer known at Soromas, where mainly Bethanien (originally 
Cape Orlam) people settled. This mask was a kind of disguise to deceive the 
spirits about the true identity of a traveller (A. Albat 1972 pers. comm.). 
Schultze (1907) noted dark masks painted with plant pigments and fat, but did 
not mention the gemsbok face. 

Other paints are made from fat and the brown, inner wood of an acacia (not 
camel-thorn) tree, other unidentified brown wood, and the yellow wood of the 
'melkhout' tree (possibly Ficus cordata). 




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The powdered yellow wood of the camel-thorn tree is used on its own for 
buchu, while the brown camel-thorn powder (of 'bark' in Gibeon, of 'wood' in 
Soromas) is used by women against infection. (See discussion of these woods in 
Plant pigments of the section on historical Hottentots.) 

A yellow, sometimes brown, paint is made with fat and a fungus (possibly 
Podaris pistillaris, J. P. Rourke 1970 pers. comra.). It was noted at Gibeon and 
at Berseba, where an Orlam woman had some prepared in a little tin (as well as 
red ochre paint), and it is used, as are other paints, as protection against the sun. 
At Soromas the people said that this yellow powder is used on its own when the 
skin appears jaundiced. According to Schultze (1907), the Nama (sex unspe- 
cified) hung a fungus on a string round the neck so that the yellow spores 
dispersed over the body; the rest of the fungus was dried and powdered. 
Westphal noted in 1906 that the Kora made use of a brown or yellow fungus and 
fat for a paint — this fungus was also used by Bushmen. 

At Gibeon it was known that a yellow berry was used in the south of the 
territory for painting the face, and at Bethanien (according to the women at 
Soromas) a girl initiate was smeared and cleansed with a paint of berries and fat 
after she had been smeared with boro; a widow was also cleansed with the 
berries and fat. These berries were also used when tanning skins. Hoernle (1918) 
noted the Nama use of red ochre and fat for cleansing a female initiate, and also 
a widow, when cow-dung was used as well, but found that at Walvis Bay a 
Topnaar widow was cleansed with goat-dung and a mixture of fat and ground 
naras pips. 

Although the people at Soromas knew of other paints and had used them at 
Bethanien in the past, some said that they now used only the red ochre paint, 
while coloured plant powders were used on their own for buchu. 

General uses 

An unusual pigment is obtained from the yellow petals of a small plant — at 
Soromas were seen a small pouch made from the reticulum of a goat with cotton 
cloth sewn round the opening, and a small bag of goatskin; both had been 
coloured yellow by rubbing them with these petals and spit — water could be 
used instead of spit. After 9 years the colour on the pouch has faded. This little 
pouch was made to use as a container for things such as buchu, but in previous 
years pouches made from the reticula of sheep and goats were worn over the 
sexual parts of young Nama boys (J. J. Oberholtser, National Monuments 
Council, 1979, pers. comm.). Chapman (1849-63) mentioned 'a kind of saffron' 
used by the Nama, but did not give further details. 

Various plant materials for tanning skins are selected for the colours they 
give the skins. The pounded elandsboontjie (Elephantorrhiza elephantina) root, 
soaked in water, gives a strong red colour, but if left too long in the water the 
colour becomes too dark. Engelbrecht (1936) noted that the Kora used this root 
for tanning. 


The brown bark of an unidentified tree also colours the skins red. Pounded 
acacia 'wood' (Berseba informant) tans and colours skins red, acacia bark 
(W. Smith 1972 pers. comm.) tans and colours skins red or brown — the Berseba 
informant might have meant bark. Schultze (1907) recorded that the bark of 
Acacia horrida {A. Karroo), used by the Nama, made skins red. 

The bark of the camel-thorn tree gives the skins a brown colour. Just under 
the bark the wood is yellow and this could be used to give skins a yellower 
colour (J. P. Rourke 1979 pers. comm.). 

Skins meant for articles such as 'abbakarosse' that are usually coloured with 
red ochre, will possibly preferably be tanned with materials that redden them. 

Miscellaneous pigments 

Several other pigments were noted among the Nama (Table 28). According 
to the people at Soromas, bat droppings mixed with water, and 'klipsweet' 
(hyraxeum) mixed with fat are used for dark-brown facial paints (see also Dung 
above). According to Schultze (1907), the hyraxeum was mixed with water for 
facial paint. 

Table 28 
Miscellaneous pigments used by the present-day Nama. 

Pastor A Albat, Berseba Heated, crushed quartz, with fat, for women's cosmetic 

Ouderling Swartbooi, Soromas Dark-brown bat droppings with water, for women's 

cosmetic paint 
Women, Soromas Dark-brown hyraxeum ('klipsweet') with fat for women's 

cosmetic paint 

A piece of quartz is heated, cooled down under the skirts of a woman, and 
then pounded fine; when mixed with fat it is a facial paint, and when used on its 
own it is a kind of buchu or aromatic powder. There is more superstition 
attached to this quartz: the woman who 'sits' on it must not be pregnant or have 
her periods, otherwise the quartz will be unlucky. Reference to this has not been 
traced in the literature. 

Schultze (1907) noted that dried, lightly roasted aromatic plants were 
pulverized with fine quartz for buchu. 

Hoernle (1918) recorded that a Nama female initiate had her greased face 
painted with 'ground white stone' as well as with red ochre; Wuras (1929) 
recorded in c. 1858 that in Bethany, Orange Free State, the hair of a Kora male 
initiate was sprinkled with powdered quartz. Here, again, is a Nama and Kora 


Aromatic powders or buchu are still in use among the Nama women as a 
scent and deodorant (Table 29). Buchu is made from a variety of substances 
such as the powdered root (brown) or inner wood (yellow) of the camel-thorn 





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tree, a powdered bark (yellow), the rotted root of a thorn tree or thorn bush, 
annuals and other herbal plants, certain grasses, and heated quartz cooled down 
in a special way (see above), denoting some ritual significance. The quartz is also 
mixed with fat for a facial paint — it may be that this is also used ritually, but 
Pastor Albat did not say anything further about it. Schultze noted in 1907 that 
Nama women heated powdered quartz for perfuming clothing, and Hoernle 
(1918) noted the use of ground white stone in female initiation; the Kora also 
used powdered quartz in male initiation, as noted above. 

The traditional containers for buchu are still used, i.e. horn containers, 
small calabashes, and, mainly, tortoise-shells (Fig. 13), the lower apertures of 
which are closed with traditional substances such as gum, and pastes of pounded 
charcoal and fat, or pounded charcoal and glands. Engelbrecht (1936) noted this 
use of charcoal and animal glands among the Kora. 


Nama women still sometimes make traditional patterns and masks on their 
faces with cosmetic paints (Table 30). Patterns were also made on legs in the 
recent past, but this practice seems to be most uncommon now, although it was 
mentioned and demonstrated in interviews. 

Patterns may vary among the tribes or groups (W. Smith 1972 pers. 
comm.), and consist of lines or dots made mainly with paint of red ochre and fat; 
patterns may be made by scratching them on a painted face or on painted legs 
with the finger-nails or a small stick — wavy lines were made with a small stick on 
a face in an interview. Red ochre paint applied in patches to faces was seen 
during interviews (as well as paint applied all over the face). 

Masks are painted — this was demonstrated at Kranzplatz where large un- 
painted circles were left round the eyes and mouth and the rest of the face was 
painted with red ochre (Fig. 1C), and at Soromas where a red ochre mask was 
painted round the eyes (Fig. ID). 

The special 'gemsbok face' or mask, demonstrated at Kranzplatz (Fig. IB) 
is generally made with a paint of brown camel-thorn wood or root; the 
Rooinasie use red ochre paint for this. The paint is applied with the fingers to 
make the mask, or the mask may be made by wiping away areas of paint from 
the face with a cloth. 

Schultze (1907) recorded that a wet finger-tip could be used to create the 
desired pattern, and there is Wikar's reference to patterns made on a man's face 
(Kora?) by wiping away some of the paint. 

A comparison with the practices of the historical Hottentots (Table 20) 
shows that facial patterns were made throughout historical times to the present 
day. In historical times men also painted patterns on their faces, particularly for 
rituals and festivals. In the past, black soot and charcoal were among the 
pigments used for patterned body decoration, also by the Nama, according to 
Von Francois (1896), but today black is no longer used. 



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Schreyer (1668) and Cortemiinde (1672) referred to patterns being scratch- 
ed with finger-nails in the body paint; references by later writers to this practice 
were not found, but the study has revealed that the Nama still use this method to 
decorate their faces, a practice that has survived for over 300 years, at least. 

The motivation for painting themselves is no longer clear to the Nama. 
Even if ritual practices have lost their meaning, they did not even give rituals 
as reasons: they said that the practices are traditional, and that the use of 
cosmetic paints is for the sake of appearance, for protecting the skin, cleansing, 
or to iook different' after a particular event or phase in a person's life. The 
latter reason indicates that there is still some ritual significance, i.e. the state of 
transition described by Hoernle (1918), and the ritual 'andersmaken' of their 
forebears is still practised to a certain extent. The Nama still know the 'gems- 
bok face' but did not seem to know its significance or meaning when inter- 

Cicatrization, another form of body decoration in which pigments may be 
used, does not seem to be practised among the Nama of today. 


The Nama still make traditional use of traditional pigments and paints; the 
ingredients and the paints are often kept in traditional containers such as horns, 
calabashes and tortoise-shells. 

Red ochre is the most widely used and important pigment; it is used mainly 
by the women for cosmetic purposes and also for ritual purposes; the medium 
for making the cosmetic paint is almost always animal fat, frequently the 
traditional raw, chewed, intestinal fat (mixed with saliva to form an emulsion), 
but butter and Vaseline may also be used; water is rarely a medium for this 
cosmetic paint. Red ochre paint for colouring skin objects is rarely made with 
fat, usually with water. 

Specularite is apparently unknown. Black pigments are no longer used, 
except in one rare, ritual occasion. 

Plant pigments are used extensively. They are browns and yellows and are 
made from traditional materials such as wood, roots, and fungi, and are mixed 
with fat for women's cosmetic paints, or are used on their own as buchu or 
medicine. Coloured wood or bark soaked in water tans and colours animal skins 
red, brown, or yellow. A yellow flower is moistened with saliva or water to 
colour skin objects. 

White quartz, heated, ritually cooled, powdered and mixed with fat is a 
cosmetic paint for women, or it may be used on its own for buchu. 

Hyraxeum mixed with fat, and bat droppings mixed with water are used as 
facial paints for women. 

Traditional patterns are still made on women's faces with paints, and, 
rarely, on legs. The tradition of scratching patterns in the paints recorded over 
300 years ago, is still practised. 


The women still make masks on their faces, including the traditional 
gemsbok face made with red ochre paint by the Rooinasie and with brown 
camel-thorn paint by others. 

The medium for paints used by the Nama is almost always fat; occasionally 
water is used. There is no evidence for the use of any other substances as a 
medium for paints, apart from a little saliva with chewed fat. 

The reasons for the use of pigments and paints are largely cosmetic and out 
of habit, although some traditional ritual uses still exist, particularly in connec- 
tion with the various states of transition in a person's life. 

While all the historical Hottentot groups had some traditions in common, 
this study has revealed that certain substances were used for pigments and paints 
apparently by the Nama and Kora only, and it has confirmed that some 
traditions are common to these two groups. 




Long before the Dutch founded a victualling station at the Cape of Good 
Hope in 1652, Portuguese and other voyagers had recorded encountering 
indigenous people along the shores of South Africa (see Raven-Hart 1967), but 
it was not until the settlement had been established that the hunter-gatherer 
Bushmen, as they eventually became known, were identified as one of the 
indigenous peoples. 

On 3 January 1654, Jan van Riebeeck (1651-62) noted in his Journal that 
'Hottentots without cattle' came to steal at the white settlement — they might 
have been Bushmen or the stockless Hottentots (Strandlopers) who lived 
around the Cape. Bushmen were mentioned in the Journal for the first time 
when on 9 January 1654 an entry referred to 'Sonqua', the Hottentot name for 

In 1655 Jan Wintervogel and his party, on the first inland journey, encoun- 
tered Bushmen some 80 km inland, near present-day Malmesbury or Darling, 
who, after an initial threatening attitude, accepted gifts of tobacco (Mossop 
1927). In 1660 some members of Van Meerhof 's expedition encountered Bush- 
men who gave them dried fish and honey and helped them over the mountains; 
and on another expedition Van Meerhof 's men made several contacts with the 
'Sonquas', according to the Journal. 

Olof Bergh (1682-3) noted that at the Berg River 'we came to some 
Hottentots, they being Somquaas, alias Bushmen' — the encounter was peaceful. 
'Hottentot' seems to have been used often in the early years of the colony as a 
general term for both Hottentots and Bushmen. 

Most of the early writers recorded that their encounters with Bushmen were 
peaceful, but the official records make sorry reading (see e.g. Moodie 1838). 
Particularly the eighteenth century, when the boundaries of the colony were 
extended 'legally' and illegally into the hunting-grounds of the Bushmen, was 
marked by numerous Bushman raids and retaliatory commandos. Early in the 
nineteenth century some Bushman groups in the Griqualand East areas were 
acquiring livestock, but they were harassed and raided by blacks (Campbell 1822 
2: 287). Bushmen stole the stock of the Hottentots and were in turn raided and 
killed (Campbell 1822 2: 293). Their children were kidnapped by black and 
white to serve as servants (Arbousset & Daumas 1846: 228; Stow 1905: 48, 163, 
192, 205, 217). Attempts were made to establish missions for the Bushmen 
(Stow 1905: 175-176); the missionary Moffat (1845: 47) was moved to write, 
'Poor Bushman! Thy hand has been against every one and every one's hand 
against thee. . .'. 

The surviving Cape Bushmen became farm laborours and finally became 
absorbed into other population groups. Small bands of Bushmen lived on in the 
Drakensberg in Natal until the 1870s (Wright 1971) and later in Lesotho (How 

Today there are estimated to be between 50 000 and 60 000 Bushmen 


(Tobias 1975, 1978: 10 ff.). Most of them live in Botswana, and there are about 
26 000 in South West Africa (C. G. Coetzee 1980 pers. comm.)— settlement 
schemes have been implemented for some in both these territories; others live, 
or lived, in southern Angola, a small group is in south-western Zambia, and a 
very few are still on farms in the Lake Chrissie area (eastern Transvaal) and the 
north-western Cape. (See Tobias (1978: 19) for distribution past and present; 
Duggan-Cronin (1942), Silberbauer (1965), and others for 'tribal' or group 

Environmental differences, settlement programmes, the expansion of farm- 
ing areas, contacts with other people, and intermarriage have influenced their 
traditional culture or cultures and account for many differences among the 
groups. Bushmen are still serfs in various areas (in Ovamboland, pers. obs. 
1974; in Okavango areas, pers. obs. 1963; in Botswana, Heinz 1966). In South 
West Africa the Bushmen have been registered as voters (Argus 1978) and their 
name in the political body for their own delegation is 'Bushman' — it is as well to 
take note of this in the matter of terminology. (However, this is not implying a 
homogeneous ethnic unit.) 

The complicated question of identification has been mentioned in the main 
introduction. Not only were some historical Bushmen also herders to a greater 
or lesser extent (Wikar 1779: 29, 31, 205; Campbell 1822 2: 287), but some of 
the historical Hottentots (who were herders as well as hunter-gatherers) who 
had lost their stock became hunter-gatherers only. The various 'Bush language 
types' are diverse (see W. H. I. Bleek 1873; Westphal 1962, 1963; Traill 1978); 
however, as Westphal (1963) has noted, several 'Bushman' groups speak a 
'Hottentot language' (his general term); he called a 'very strongly divergent 
group of Hottentot dialects' the 'Tshu-Khwe Hottentot group', and noted that 
the kinship terminology and kinship system of the Tshu-Khwe (including the 
G/wi and Nharo, but not the Hai// 9 om who speak a 'fragmented Nama') and 
'other Hottentots' studied have no resemblance to the kinship terminology and, 
in some cases, system, of three Bushman groups studied; 'even though racial and 
cultural criteria cannot be satisfactorily applied, the linguistic and socio-linguistic 
evidence for a differentiation of Tshu-Khwe Hottentots and Bush peoples is 
ample'. That is but one view. There are anthropologists who have noted marked 
socio-cultural differences between the Hottentots and Hottentot-speaking Bush- 
men, while others, such as Hoernle (1918) have pointed out that some Bushmen 
have rites and customs similar to those of the Hottentots (see p. 188 herein). 
The reasons for these differences and similarities — whether due to coincidence, 
cultural contacts, or other factors — are not relevant here. 

Other indigenous peoples in southern Africa have known the Bushmen by a 
variety of names (Theal 1882: 158, 256, 262; Marshall 19766: 11, 15), but the 
Bushmen did not have a general name for themselves (e.g. Lichtenstein 1811 
2: 82), which is hardly surprising considering their wide distribution and 'unre- 
lated' languages. The name 'Bosjesmans' first appeared in a manuscript in 1685 
(Theal 1882: 262). 


The historical term 'Bushmen' is preferred here when referring to these 
diverse groups (see pp. 8-9), and it and others are used according to the original 


The term 'group' is preferred to 'tribe'. Bushman groups have been known 
by various names with various spellings, some of them patently incorrect, and 
standardization is long overdue. In the tables and in the data at the end of this 
section, the names are given as spelt in the original references, but in the 
discussion below the names and spellings presently used or approved by 
A. Traill (1981 pers. comm.) have been used where applicable. However, all are 
not necessarily suggested as standard usage for the future, largely because of the 
cumbersome diacritical marks. Lower case letters follow click sounds at the 
beginning of names. 

^=kx 9 au// 9 ei — the so-called Auen, Auin, Kau, or Kau-Kau Bushmen 

/ 9 auni 

/ 9 auni-=£khomani 

G//ana and G/wi — '=£ Kade San' of Tanaka (1976); the latter is a place name 
and refers to the people around the =£ kade pan who include both G/wi and 
G//ana (H. P. Steyn 1979 pers. comm.) (or =£xade, A. Traill 1981 pers. 

G/wi — the voicing, marked by G, precedes and is conterminous with the 
click, so that /gwi is also correct (A. Traill 1981 pers. comm.); instead of 
/Gwi,G/we, Gikwe 

Hai// 9 om — instead of Heikom, Heikum, Hei-//om, also spelt Hai// 9 um, 
Hain// 9 um 

!kung — the correct name is !xu, but the former name has become so 
entrenched in the literature that it is retained here in this study (with the 
correct spelling) to avoid confusion. 

Nharo — Naron of Bleek (1928/?) and others 


Xatia — of Wilman (1933) from the lower Nossop River, Kalahari Game 
Reserve area 

1x66 — instead of !K6 of Heinz (1966) 

Masarwa, Basarwa, or Sarwa are general terms used in Botswana for 


It was really only in the latter half of the last century that scholars began to 
study the Bushmen, and the little that is known of the Cape Bushmen is due 
mainly to the researches of W. H. I. Bleek and Lucy Lloyd, and later. Dorothea 


Bleek who continued their work and extended it to other Bushman groups. In 
the past few decades there has been a great deal of research among the 
Bushmen, mainly among a few groups. Little attention has ever been paid to 
their pigments and paints — the information is scattered and poorly recorded, 
and most of the early writers, including Stow (1905) and Schapera (1930), dealt 
with the Bushmen in general terms, often with little regard for group or 
linguistic affinities or even for locality. 

As in the section on the historical Hottentots, the data at the end of this 
section are given in chronological order. Dates without parentheses next to the 
names in the subheadings indicate the time when the information was noted; 
dates in parentheses in the subheadings indicate references to publications. 
Other references to published and unpublished information are given in the text 
in the usual way. 

Other data relating to paints associated with the Bushmen and rock paint- 
ings have already been listed and discussed in the section on theories and 
experiments regarding southern African rock paintings. 


The relevant information regarding most of the substances used for pig- 
ments and paints has been set out in chronological order in tables, in which all 
dates are not necessarily dates of publication (these may be obtained from the 
data below) ; in this discussion references other than new ones are repeated only 
when of particular significance or to indicate a particular time — full details are in 
the data. Mainly the past tense is used, although many of the practices still occur 


The Bushmen seldom had enough fat for their needs, and early records 
often referred to their lack of, or desire for, it. Fat features in stories, a gift of 
fat ensured future favours from the recipient, and it was important in many 

About 50 per cent of the 120 or so references to fat that was used by the 
Bushmen did not specify the kind of fat (Table 31). There was an equal number 
of references to various animal fats and vegetable oils or fat (25 % in each case), 
and all but a few were from this century. Game animals carry far less fat than 
domestic animals, but it may be that those of the historical Bushmen who lived 
in areas where grazing and water were plentiful, would have had access to more 
animal fat than those in desert areas where the animals usually carry less fat. 

Included in the animal fats are marrow, brains, fat from termites or ant 
larvae, and fat from bull-frogs. There was only one contemporary reference to 

The various kinds of fat and their uses are discussed separately here below. 
The records are inadequate and the lack of information regarding the use of 
certain fats among some groups does not rule out their use. 


Animal fat 

Animal fat is relatively scarce in the Bushman diet and this kind of fat is 
relished, particularly that of eland, which was said to be softer than, for 
instance, gnu fat (Chapman 1849-63). When hippo fat was available, it was 
drunk and smeared on people's bodies (Burchell 1822-4). Termite fat and the fat 
of bull-frogs augmented the diet of the Nharo and !kung respectively, and 
among the Nharo — and possibly among others — ostrich fat was sought after. 

According to Le Vaillant (1790), both men and women used buchu and 
animal fat or the fat of 'fried ant larvae' on their bodies. 

There were very few references to animal fat for use as an everyday salve or 
cosmetic. Among the !kung, men and women use eland fat as a salve, it is 
smeared on implements, and it is preferred for bridal and female puberty rites 
when it is also mixed with 'red stone' for a ritual cosmetic; the South West 
African !kung (and perhaps those in Botswana, but no record was found) mix 
animal fat with powdered red wood for cosmetic purposes. 

Various Bushman groups sometimes mixed different substances with animal 
fat to rub into cuts for cicatrization (see below). 

There were very few references to marrow, although it is relished as a food. 
!kung babies were smeared with raw marrow, and !kung medicine-men kept 
marrow and medicinal plants in tortoise-shells. This soft fat might have been an 
ingredient for body paint, but was not specifically mentioned for this purpose in 
the literature studied. 

The !kung of South West Africa — and doubtless other groups — give the 
brains to old people to eat. The G/wi use rotted brains and other moist 
substances when curing hides and skins. In north-western Botswana, a paste of 
boiled brains and red ochre was said to have been reheated for painting rock 


Apparently some Ovambo Bushmen exchange their mixture of butter 
(obtained from the Kwanyama) and red wood, and other items, for butter and 
other items of the Kwanyama (Guerreiro quoted in Heitze 1972). The use of 
butter is certainly not traditional to the Bushmen, but those with access to it 
would use it as others do who mix the red wood with other fat (see also plant 
pigments below). 

Vegetable fat 

Barrow (1806) remarked on oil from the black, burnt kernel of a nut that 
was used on faces and against 'stiffness in the joints'; the colonists used this oil 
against rheumatism. Chapman (1868) found 'Bushmen and other natives' (in 
present-day northern Botswana?) using oil from seeds. In this century, scholars 
recorded the use by various Bushman groups of vegetable oils for the following 
purposes: as an everyday salve or cosmetic in the areas round Lake Ngami, in 
south-western Botswana, and in central Angola — the main users were women. 

Table 31 
Fat used by the Bushmen. 

II I 1 I 1 11 I 

1 ! 1 1 1 

■S "S % 'S * 

SW Cape interior 

Le Vaillant 1790 
Thunberg 1793 
Barrow 1806 
Barrow 1806 
Lichtenstein 1811 
Lichtenstein 1811 
Lichtenstein 1811 
Lichtenstein 1811 
Burchell 1822-4 
Burchell 1822-4 
Burchell 1822-4 
Burchell 1822-4 
Burchell 1822-4 
Burchell 1822-4 
Smith 1834-6 
Steedman 1835 
Moffat 1845 
Arbousset & 

Daumas 1846 
Chapman 1849-63 
Chapman 1849-63 
Chapman 1868 
Harris 1852 
Harris 1852 
Livingstone 1857 
Baines 1864 

Ley land 1866 Bechuanal. ' 

Fritsch 1872 Inland 

Ratzel 1885 Inland 

Westphal 1906 Pniel 


Orange R. 
Orange R. 
Orange R. 
Griqual. W. 
Griqual. W. 
Griqual. W. 
Griqual. W. 
Riet R. 


Lake Ngami 
Griqual. W. 

'Not so greasy' 

'Lack fat for s 

Or ant larvae for fat 

With 'red chalk' 

Wipe greasy hands on body 

Black kernel of nut 

With ash 

Fond of fat 

Animal fat and ochre 

With ochre 

Fond of fat 

Wipe greasy hands on body 

Oil from seeds 

Red clay, pattern on chest 

Nose, cheeks 

In arrow poison wound 

Chewed root, then fat in 

arrow poison wound 


Passarge 1907 


Schultze 1907 


Bleek& Lloyd 1911 

N Cape 

Bleek & Lloyd 1911 

Bleek& Lloyd 1911 

Currle 1913 


Theal 1916, 1919 


Dornan 1925 


Dornan 1925 

Dornan 1925 Lake Ngami 

Fourie, 1927, 1928 Hei//om, S.W./ 

Bleek 1928a 

Cent. Angola 

Bleek 1928a 

cent. Kalahari 

Bleek 19286 

As above 

Bleek 19286 

Bleek 19286 

Bleek 19286 

Bleek 19286 

As above 

Dunn 1931 


Dunn 1931 


Lebzelter 1934 


Lebzelter 1934 


Lebzelter 1934 


Bleek 1935 

/Xam, N Cape 

MacCrone 1937 


Maingard 1937 

S Kalahari 

Vedder 1938 


Vedder 1938 


Duggan-Cronin 1942 

/Xam, N Cape 

Duggan-Cronin 1942 

/|n, S Kalahari 

Battiss 1948 


Metzger 1950 

IKung, S.W.A.? 

Metzger 1950 


Metzger 1950 


Metzger 1950 


Metzger 1950 

Metzger 1950 

Metzger 1950 


Metzger 1950 


Metzger 1950 


Schoeman 1951 

Heikum, S.W.A. 

Schoeman 1951 

Bolinder 1952 

S Angola 

Ellenherger 1953 


Tobias 1955 

Auen, Naron 

Wilhelm 1955 

Hukwe, S Angola 

Wilhelm 1955 

Hukwe, S Angola 

Story 1958 


Marshall 1959 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1959 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1959 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1959 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1961 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1961 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1961 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1962 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1962 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Marshall 1969 

IKung, S.W.A. 

Thomas 1959 

Kung, S.W.A. 

Thomas 1959 

Kung, S.W.A. 

Thomas 1959 

Kung, S.W.A. 

Thomas 1959 

Kung, S.W.A. 

>e Idom have fat 

And yellow fungus powder 

against cold, heat 

With red ochre 

With charcoal in tortoise-shell 

With specularite 

For aches 

On damp clay pot 

Ostrich fat, red fungus powder 

With soot or coloured clay 

With soot, red, white clay, 

against cold, heat 

Bow is smeared 

Oil from seeds 

Oil from seeds, red powdered 

Eland fat prized, nuts, termites 

To soften honey bags 

With ochre, festivals, dances, 

Kept in bone tube 
With medicinal herbs 
With red ochre 
Sorcerer is rubbed 

On hides 

To draw out hair 

With haematite for crayon 

With burnt meat, wood, 

With glands, in tortoise-shell 

Young man, for dance 

For drinking 

Eland fat, marrow, bull-frog 

fat, prized 

Fatty hands wiped on body 

not ochre for rock paintings 

On clothing 

Against vermin 

Ochna pulchra 

Preferably eland fat, bride and 

With red stone for above 

Gift of oil for hair 

With charred meat, hunting 

Eland fat. 

n cherished 
Brains for elderly 
'Paauw' fat, wood dish 
On mythical figure 
With charred plants in 
tortoise-shell, medicine man's 

Roast fatty nut, tsi 

Manghetti nuts 

On bride and groom 




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although the sex was not always specified; as a cleanser and in male initiation by 
'Bushmen' in South West Africa (Vedder 1938); among the Nharo by both men 
and women as a cleanser and salve, sometimes with spit; also by 1x66 women 
with spit for cleansing; the 1x66 also use it in the renaming ceremony of a baby 
and in male initiation; by the G/wi against sunburn and for massaging in 
pregnancy and childbirth; as ritual cleansers by !kung women who make a paste 
with oils and roots to use against harm from certain foods; and in female 
initiation among the !kung (who use it mixed with a 'red stone' in these rites), 
and the Hai// 7 om (who use it mixed with red bark). 

Nuts and seeds containing oils are used as food by the G/wi, the !kung, the 
Nharo, and other unspecified Pushman groups — possibly all groups make use of 
available fatty nuts and seeds for food and other purposes. 

It seems that these vegetable oils play a more important role as a cleanser 
among the Bushman groups who have a scarcity of water, and as a food among 
those who have a scarcity of animal fat, i.e. from big game. There is some 
evidence that vegetable oils were used for mixing with pigments for body paints. 

Unspecified fats 

These fats could include all those mentioned above. 

An unusual use for fat was when damp clay pots were rubbed with it before 
firing (Bleek & Lloyd 1911). This was also a Nama custom (see present-day 
Nama herein p. 149). 

Apart from being eaten, the other uses for fats were: for salves or cosmetics, 
mainly by the women of various, possibly all, groups; as medicine in poisoned- 
arrow wounds (Livingstone 1857); for aches; for mixing with medicinal herbs by 
the Hai// 7 om and !kung (and possibly others); with red ochre as a cosmetic by 
Hai// 9 om women; for rubbing on a /xam sorcerer; by the Nharo for rubbing with 
roots into cicatrization cuts, for rubbing with 'red clay' into skin clothing, or 
plastering the mixture round the edge of a child's hair to stop the growth, for 
rubbing on women's faces with ochre, or with charcoal on their eyebrows; by 
southern Angolan Bushmen for rubbing into the hair against vermin — they also 
used lime for this purpose. The !kung medicine-men mix fat and charred plants 
and burn the mixture in a tortoise-shell for the smoke it makes; !kung men in 
Botswana use a fatty black paste on their faces, and fat and herbs are rubbed 
into medical scars (Fig. 16). 

Thunberg (1793) noted that 'red chalk' was applied to greased bodies and 
Lichtenstein (1811) remarked on the bodies of (Roggeveld?) Bushmen being 
covered with fat and ash, and those along the Orange River being covered with 
'black grease'. At Zak River, fat and ochre were used on bodies; Arbousset & 
Daumas (1846) mentioned the use of ochre and buchu by women in their 
greased hair; Harris (1852) recorded the use in Griqualand West of 'red clay' on 
women's greasy bodies and (elsewhere inland?) a cosmetic paint of ochre on 
women's faces; Fritsch (1872) recorded the use of fat and ochre inland (South 
West Africa?) and noted that fat was seldom available. At Pniel a mixture of fat 



Fig. 16. !kung man undergoing medicinal scarification. The scars are 
rubbed with fat and herbs (from colour slides by Anthony Bannister). 

and yellow fungus powder was smeared on the body against cold and heat; 
'Masarwa' women smeared fat and charcoal on themselves 'to become fat again'; 
in the northern Cape a mixture of fat and specularite was rubbed into the hair 
(Bleek & Lloyd (1911) did not specify the sex); Theal (1916, 1919) wrote 
vaguely of the use of fat with soot and 'coloured clay'; according to Dornan 
(1925), the Kalahari (Botswana) Bushmen used fat and soot or red and white 
'clay' to protect the skin. 

There is thus further evidence that among various Bushman groups fat was 
used as a medium for body paints. 

According to Ellenberger (1953), the Bushmen were said to have used 
melted fat with pigments (but not 'ochre') for rock paintings. 



Two references only to the use of dung relevant to this study were found: in 
Botswana Bushmen had covered the floor of a rock shelter with dung and mud 
(Sandelowsky 1974) — this is hardly traditional and must have been learnt from 
the Bantu-speaking people; the pomade of mud and dung for their hair, 
sometimes with reddish clay or ochre, recorded in Botswana was not recorded 
elsewhere and this, too, might have been an influence through contact with 
other people. 


Human urine was, and still is, used among various Bushman groups (Table 
32). Thunberg (1793) recorded that the urine of a Bushman or Hottentot, who 
had immunized himself against snakes and 'other venomous creatures', was 
drunk as an antidote against snake-bite. According to Thompson (1927), Bush- 
man 'slang-meesters' ate the poison and applied (their?) urine to snake-bites. 
Schinz's (1891) version was that in South West Africa a mixture of water and 
snake or scorpion poison was applied to cuts in the skin for immunity against 
bites — according to his experiments it proved to be effective. Urine was said to 
neutralize arrow poison in a wound (Fritsch 1872); among the Hai// 9 om, a 
woman's urine was used for such wounds (Schoeman 1951). If not diseased, 
urine is an effective antiseptic for wounds and no doubt the Bushmen discovered 

Few ritual uses for urine were found: =£kx 9 au// 9 ei initiates in South West 
Africa 'partake of the "devil's urine"', whatever that may mean; !kung medi- 
cine-men 'use' the supernatural urine of a lesser god or a supernatural giraffe; 
and a 'Bushman' urinates in the fire to change the weather (Thomas 1959). 

Urine has practical uses in the absence of water; it has been recorded that 
the !kung and G/wi urinate on sand and lie in it to cool down in the heat of the 
day; it is used to soften hides and skins in the tanning process; and the G/wi 
wash their hand with urine if water is unavailable. 

There is no evidence of urine having formed an ingredient of any kind of 


Various Bushman groups make use of blood (Table 33) as a food: Fourie 
(1928) recorded that in South West Africa it was cooked and mixed with 
marrow, meat or pounded plant food; the !kung give it raw (and cooked?) to old 
people; the so-called ^kade people (G//ana or G/wi) and the G/wi drink blood 
and the latter also eat it cooked. Other groups possibly also use blood as a food. 

Dart (1937) recorded that / 9 auni-=£khomani women rubbed goat blood and 
ash on their faces and made patterns in the blood on their arms and legs: 
Maingard (1937) saw children in the southern Kalahari smearing goat blood on 
their faces and legs — no reasons were given for these uses. 
























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Bleek & Lloyd (1911) recorded that blood was boiled in a new pot before 
the pot was used; in central Angola it was used for smearing on fetish sticks; 
Sotho people told Ellenberger (1953) that the Bushmen had used animal blood 
for rock paintings. 

/xam sorcerers smeared the blood from their noses on patients. In Hai// 9 om 
marriage rites the mixed blood of the couple was rubbed into their cicatrization 
cuts, and similarly among the G/wi with the addition of ash and pounded roots. 
Hoernle (1918) recorded that in the Nama remarriage ceremony blood of the 
couple mixed with animal blood and body dirt was rubbed into cuts in their 
skins. The similarity of these rites could perhaps be due to cultural contacts 
among these different groups: the Hai// 9 om and G/wi both speak a Hottentot 

Apart from the information — not obtained from Bushmen — noted in the 
section on theories and experiments regarding the South African rock paintings, 
there is little ethnographical evidence that Bushmen used blood as a 'paint'. 


References to the use of stomach liquid (the liquid squeezed from the 
contents of the rumen of larger game) (Table 34) are in connection with those 
Bushmen who have a scarcity of water. The liquid is strained through grass and 
drunk, and used in other ways as a substitute for water, e.g. it is used to moisten 
hides for tanning. Among the Nharo (some of whom keep goats), some illnesses 
may be washed away with the contents of a goat's stomach rubbed over the 
patient. Heinz (1966) recorded that the rumen liquid is drunk only when the 
people are very thirsty; 'the water gives you awful diarrhoea'. 

Table 34 
Stomach liquid used by the Bushmen. 

Schoeman 1951 Heikum, S.W.A. Strained and drunk 

Bjerre 1960 NW S.W.A. Drunk 

Thomas 1959 Gikwe, Bechuanal. Saved 

Silberbauer 1965 G/wi, Bechuanal. Drunk 

Silberbauer 1972 G/wi, Botswana For moistening hides in tanning 

Tanaka 1976 ^Kade (pan), Botswana Source of water 

Barnard 1979 Nharo, Botswana Contents of goat's stomach on body of 

patient to wash away some illnesses 


For many of the Bushmen living in the Kalahari, water (Table 35) is a 
scarce commodity; for some, such as the G/wi and 1x66, it is unavailable for 
most of the year when plant juices and other substances must be used instead for 
drinking, cooking, and other purposes (e.g. Silberbauer 1965; Heinz 1966); 
water is not usually available for washing (Steyn 1971). Without, perhaps, 
considering the circumstances, Dunn (1931) wrote that Bushmen did not 'in- 
dulge' in hand-washing; Vedder (1938) noted that, besides never washing, they 
believed water would bring bad luck to a hunter, but he did not name the group 




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in question — taboos about water among the Nama have been mentioned in a 
previous section; and Bleek (19286) found that among the Nharo washing with 
water was done only by those who had 'been much with Europeans'. 

If abundant water is available, it is certainly used for washing. The group of 
Bushmen who were in Cape Town for the Van Riebeeck Festival in 1952 spent a 
great deal of time under the showers installed in their quarters. In 1963, on an 
expedition along the Okavango River, the author observed a large band of 
Bushmen living among the Kuangari near Rundu — their skins were clean and 
surprisingly light yellow from regular washing and protection from excessive 
sunlight through living among trees. 

Others, too, have reported washing with water when it is available, e.g. by 
the !kung in South West Africa who live near pans (Thomas 1959), while the 
G/wi habitually wash hands before eating if water is available (Silberbauer 
1965); if not, they use urine, as noted above. 

A mixture of water and poison was rubbed into cuts in the skin for 
immunity against poisonous bites and stings. The Hai// 9 om drank large quanti- 
ties of warm water against arrow poison. 

Various ritual uses for water were recorded: among Namib Desert Bush- 
men, water and vegetable medicine were sprinkled on a grave against predators, 
and elsewhere in South West Africa water only was used on a grave so that the 
spirit did not interfere with the rain; water was used to cool a !kung medicine- 
man during certain rites; among the =£kx 9 au// 7 ei and the 1x66, a male initiate 
washed his hands in water; a !kung widow was cleaned by symbolical rain and 
washed before remarriage; a 1x66 widow could remarry when rain had removed 
the spoors of her dead husband; and in the puberty rites the young !kung wife 
runs in symbolical rain. 

It was shown in a previous section that water was important in some Nama 
rites but it does not seem that anyone has investigated whether there is a 
connection between these rites and those of some of the Bushmen. 

Information regarding the use of water as an ingredient of paint was not 


There were a few references to the milk or amniotic fluid of slaughtered 
game having been drunk. Those groups who have goats, e.g. the Nharo, no 
doubt use the milk for drinking, but normally the Bushmen do not keep 
livestock. No other uses for milk were found. 


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shells of the latter are used for water containers or for making beads and other 
ornaments. Among the Nharo, a medicine-man washes his body with eggs that 
have been ground and cooked in water to make it rain; he throws the same 
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charred meat in central Angola and north-western South West Africa; with 
pounded charred meat and wood mixed with fat, or charred meat and fat by the 
!kung; and with charred leaves by the Nharo; in western Okavango-eastern 
Caprivi, cuts on arms were rubbed with charcoal for strength. 

Cuts made during female initiation were rubbed with charcoal by Bushmen 
in central Angola and by the 1x66 in Botswana. The G/wi used ash and roots in 
cuts made in the skins of a young couple during the female puberty rites (after 
their mixed blood had been rubbed into these cuts). 

In !kung male initiation, burnt meat was rubbed into the cuts; the G/wi used 
burnt roots, and the 1x66 used charcoal and eland fat for such cuts. 

Cosmetic cuts for Nharo and G/wi women, and other unidentified women in 
north-western South West Africa, were rubbed with ash or charcoal. Among the 
Nharo studied by Steyn (1971), only the women, not the men, had cosmetic 
cuts. Metzger (1950) mentioned !kung men with blue-black (charcoal?) scars on 
faces, arms and bodies, but did not give the reasons for these. Passarge (1907) 
saw scars on Bushmen in the Kalahari into which wood ash had been rubbed — 
he did not specify the sex of the people. 

Apart from the use in cicatrization, there were other ritual uses for these 
three pigments: in the Kalahari, Dornan (1925) saw people painted with black 
and white stripes to signify a death in the camp (the black was possibly 
charcoal); the !kung (/ku of D. F. Bleek 1928a) of central Angola used white ash 
for a pigment, and their medicine-women made spots on their breasts with white 
ash; a pregnant !kung woman painted her face with soot from a pot before 
placing the pot on a fire. 

The !kung used a medicinal salve of burnt food for 'strength'. Along the 
western Okavango-eastern Caprivi a cough is treated by rubbing the chest with 
carbon from plants mixed with fat. 

Cosmetic uses included a mixture of charcoal and fat used by 'Masarwa' 
women 'to become fat', and by Nharo women on their eyebrows. Nharo men 
and women used charcoal on their faces for a dance, and 1x66 women blackened 
their eyebrows with charcoal for puberty rites and daily use. 

Theal (1916, 1919) referred to 'Bushmen' using soot on themselves; Dornan 
(1925) wrote of Kalahari Bushmen using grease and soot on themselves; Laidler 
(1928) said the ash of a 'thorn tree sucker' was rubbed on the Bushmen's bodies; 
Bleek (1942) noted that 'all Bushmen' used charcoal and red clay, especially for 
dancing. In none of these instances was the group or sex of the users specified. 

To sum up: charcoal and soot were used for black pigments, particularly for 
ritual or cosmetic cuts; occasionally the pigments were mixed with or used with 
fat smeared on bodies; ash was also used and could be 'white' or black. 

Plant pigments 

Coloured plant substances were used mainly for women's cosmetics (Table 
42). Some were selected not only for the colour, but also for the aromatic scent 
and served both as pigment and as buchu. 





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Westphal wrote in 1906 that a mixture of yellow fungus powder and fat was 
used on bodies against heat and cold. In South West Africa, Bushwomen used a 
yellow-brown aromatic powder (Fischer 1913) that might have been from a 
fungus or wood. 

In northern South West Africa, Bushmen used a red powdered wood for 
trading, possibly the same wood powder that the Ovambo !kung mixed with 
butter (obtained from the Kwanyama) and used for trading; other !kung groups 
used powdered, sweet-smelling red wood on the clothing of a child-bride, on 
their bodies, faces and hair, and to colour animal skins used for clothing. 

Bushwomen in southern Angola used ground sweet-smelling wood (colour 
not given) mixed with fat for a cosmetic paint. 

Some of these powders must have been from the wood of Pterocarpus 
angolensis (kiaat or bloodwood). According to Palmer & Pitman (1972: 270, 939), 
it is used by Bushmen and the red, inner bark of the root is sold in bundles; 
because of its colour, Africans believe it has magical powers to cure blood 
disorders; the sap is said to leave a permanent red stain (but its 'permanence' 
should be tested); the wood is used as a cosmetic and to colour clothes. Bushmen 
in the eastern Okavango and western Caprivi use this wood for ritual and 
medicinal purposes and to colour ostrich egg-shell beads, for which blood could 
also be used — the red is apparently symbolical for blood (Kohler 1979). 

Thomas (1959) mentioned the use of red 'tchambuti' wood for buchu by the 
!kung; Palmer & Pitman (1972) wrote that tamboti or Spirostachys africana 
wood is dark brown and oily and that 'in South West Africa' the wood is 
powdered, mixed with fat, and rubbed into the hair as a hair-dressing. Palmer & 
Pitman (1972: 907) also noted that Baphia spp. growing in South West Africa 
produce a brilliant red dye that is used as a cosmetic, but did not state by which 

It is possible that the extensive use of wood pigments, often aromatic, in the 
northern sandveld areas of South West Africa and Botswana might have been 
due to the lack of haematite, but wood pigments were also used elsewhere: in 
1779, near the Orange River, Wikar saw a Bushwoman with red buchu made 
from red camel-thorn wood. Burchell noted that this wood was reddish brown. 
According to J. P. Rourke (1979 pers. comm.), the centre or inner core of the 
camel-thorn tree, Acacia giraffe (now A. erioloba), is bright red, while the outer 
wood is yellow-brown. 

In 1806 Barrow recorded the use of the 'black kernel of a nut' on faces for 
cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Vedder (1938) wrote of 'Bushmen' using the 
black oil from kernels on the bodies of male initiates, \kung female initiates were 
smeared with stamped, roasted kernels; ^kx 7 au// 9 ef male initiates were smeared 
with black, powdered and roasted vegetable matter, and it was chewed and then 
used for cleaning themselves; a Hai// 9 om boy hunter was smeared with a paste of 
roots and wing bones. Some of the pigments discussed under Charcoal could 
have been included here, such as special plants that were burnt black for 
cosmetic and ritual use. 


The elandsboontjie root {Elephantorrhiza spp.) was used for tanning by the 
/ 9 auni, Xatia, and !kung, and in south-western Botswana where another veg- 
etable matter (unknown) was also used for this purpose; the skins became red or 
reddish in the process. 

These plant pigments were sometimes mixed with fat, as noted before; 
there was no information about other media having been used. 

Miscellaneous pigments 

Here, as with other pigments, the use for miscellaneous pigments (Table 43) 
was mainly cosmetic and the users were mainly women, although in many 
instances the sex of the user was not given. 

These cosmetic pigments included the unspecified 'red and yellow paint' 
used with white clay (Arbousset & Daumas 1846, mentioned under Ferric 
oxides), and the 'burnt copper ore' and 'powdered asbestos' used in the hair, all 
by women; the 'white stripes' (perhaps ritual) on a woman and 'black stripes' 
seen by Anderson (1888) in the Kalahari; Stow's (1905) red, yellow, and white 
spots for dancing and the 'great hunts', and bodies painted red, yellow, black or 
white, or in a combination of any of these colours, sometimes in spots or lines. 
This last information sounds rather fanciful and one does not know if the 
information was original or taken from another source or even from studying the 
rock paintings in which painted human figures appear. The statement that 'these 
were intended for their gala costumes and were only indulged in before their 
enemies began to vent their remorseless rage upon them' (Stow 1905: 113) 
seems to refer to pre-European times; Stow mentioned that a Bushman had 
identified a copy of a painting as representing Bushman hunters with painted 
bodies. He also referred to Baines having seen 'Damara' (Herero) Bushmen 
with hair 'felted' with grease and 'white clay'. 

Bleek & Lloyd (1911) mentioned ttd which was probably an iron oxide. 
Lebzelter (1934) identified the red with which the 'Masarwa' painted their 
bodies as ochre, but did not identify the white pigment that he mentioned. Bleek 
(1942) wrote of 'all Bushmen' using 'black earth' (or charcoal and 'red clay'), 
but did not identify the pigment further. !kung men smeared fat and black paste 
(perhaps charcoal?) on their faces (Thomas 1963). 

There were other vague references in the literature to Bushmen, including a 
servant girl in 1860, painting themselves. 

Among the other miscellaneous pigments were 'burnt meat' rubbed into 
cicatrization cuts by =£kx 9 au// 7 ei men of central Angola; !kung men and women 
were Seen with 'bluish' tattoos, and a 'black substance' was rubbed on faces for 

Other unspecified pigments were used in other rituals: the red powder 
mixed with fat and rubbed in the hair of a corpse (Arbousset & Daumas 1846) 
might have been red ochre or another iron oxide; Dornan mentioned white and 
black stripes on faces or red and white stripes on bodies as a sign of mourning; 
the kaross of a !kung married girl was strewn with red powder which must have 




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been red ochre or red wood; a pattern resembling the 'gemsbok brow shield' was 
painted on the faces of 1x66 girl and boy initiates — the pigment was not 

A brown 'soft stone', pounded and mixed with fat, was smeared on Nharo 
skin bags — it might have been an iron oxide. 

Stanford's (1910) information about 'material for painting their caves' 
sounds like guess-work and not like first-hand information. 

In only a few instances was a medium mentioned in connection with these 
pigments, when it was a fat of some kind or another. 


Some kinds of aromatic powders — buchu — of the Bushmen (Table 44) can 
be regarded as pigments (see Plant pigments above). They were used mainly 
cosmetically and were also important in some rituals. 

Aromatic powders made of roots, leaves, grass seed, and wood were, and 
are, used by all the Bushman women, and occasionally by men, as a cosmetic. 
Included among the woods are the red camel-thorn wood (Acacia erioloba) and 
the red wood used in northern South West Africa and north-western Botswana, 
possibly Pterocarpus angolensis. 

Buchu is usually kept in tortoise-shell containers. 

Ritual uses were varied. Chapman noticed a Bushman girl in present-day 
Botswana powdering a man with a 'red root powder against an evil spirit; in 
central Angola herbs were rubbed into men's cicatrization cuts, and acid roots 
were rubbed into a male initiate's cuts among the Nharo, !kung, and =£kx 7 au 
// 9 ei — these might have been a form of buchu. The =£kx 7 au// 7 eT (!kau of Roos 
1931) strewed buchu over the relatives of the deceased; the !kung rubbed a 
corpse with ochre and buchu, they threw buchu into a fire to favour a birth, the 
clothing of a child-bride was strewn with buchu, it was strewn on visitors, and 
medicine-men used it. Hai// 7 om female initiates had powdered red bark put in 
their hair after it had been smeared with oil from seeds, and a preparation of 
roots was rubbed on their bodies. The Hai// 7 om and Nharo strewed buchu over 
a grave, and the latter also burnt it on a grave; in South West Africa (group not 
specified) it was strewn over a grave to placate a spirit. The G/wi put buchu in 
the nostrils of a corpse and strewed it over the corpse and the grave. Among the 
/xam, buchu was used by sorcerers. 

There were a few references to buchu having been used on bodies smeared 
with grease, particularly the red buchu, but, contrary to the generalizations 
sometimes seen in the more popular literature, buchu was seldom mixed with 


Table 45 lists the information on painting facial and body patterns and 






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Here, too, there is less recorded information about cosmetic patterns made 
by the Bushmen than by the historical Hottentots. The practice occurred among 
various groups, but in half the references found the group was not identified. 

The practice was, and is, mainly among women (Fig. 17). Among the 
unidentified groups were women in Griqualand West who made patterns on 
their fat-besmeared chests with 'red clay', and one report was of faces and 
bodies painted with red ochre mixed with fat; white or black stripes on faces and 
bodies were seen in the Kalahari, and the white was thought to have been a sign 
of mourning. Dornan believed that red and white stripes painted on the bodies 
of women were a sign of mourning, as well as white and black stripes on 
faces — in the latter case the sex of the users was not given. Stow wrote of red, 
yellow, black, and white used separately or together in a variety of patterns, but 
did not identify the Bushman group or groups and may have come to his 
conclusions through studying the rock paintings. He also referred to information 
from others in this connection. 


Fig. 17. !kung girl having her face painted (from colour slide by Anthony Bannister). 

D. F. Bleek found that Nharo men and women smeared 'red clay' round 
eyes, mouths, and on cheeks for a dance; ash and blood were smeared in a 
pattern on an / 7 auni-=£khomani girl's face (Dart 1937) (Fig. 18 herein); and 
children in the southern Kalahari smeared goat's blood on their faces and legs, 
then scratched patterns on their legs. 



Fig. 18. Pattern painted with ash and blood on the face of an 
/ 9 auni-4khomani girl (from Dart 1937). 



There were ritual uses: patterns were painted with a black salve on the 
bodies of !kung female initiates; !kung in South West Africa used 'red stone' 
mixed with fat to decorate a girl's face in bridal and puberty rites. The \x66 
painted the 'gemsbok brow shield' on faces of male and female initiates (the 
ingredients were not given), but this does not resemble the 'gemsbok face' of the 
Nama recorded in a previous section herein. In G/wi female puberty rites the 
girl and her husband were painted in matching patterns on faces and bodies with 
red ochre mixed with fat. 

Women of an unidentified group in the Kalahari painted patterns on their 
faces — Mauduit (1954) did not give the reason for this (Fig. 19). 

Fig. 19. Kalahari Bushman girls with patterns painted on their 
faces (from Mauduit 1954). 

Cuts made for tattooing for cosmetic, ritual and medicinal purposes were 
rubbed with various substances to make scars and this usually left a permanent 
colour under the skin; this could fade with time. These cuts often formed 
patterns on bodies and faces. Charcoal and certain burnt substances such as 
meat, other food, and herbs were used. 

Bleek (1942) noted that tattooing was frequently found among northern and 
central groups. Maingard (1937) refuted Schapera's statement that scarification 
was unknown south of the 'Malopo' River, but recorded that the old custom of 



scarification was generally being abandoned. From this present study it appears 
that scarification was widespread among the Bushmen and is still being practised 
today, at least by those following the traditional way of life (Figs 16, 20). (See 
also Tobias ed. 1978: 14, 170 (photographs).) 

Fig. 20. !kung women with tattooed patterns on their faces (from colour slides by Anthony 



All Bushman groups made use of paints and pigments, mainly for cosmetic 
purposes, and many still use them today. Apparently the use was not as 
extensive as among the Hottentots, but this may be due to lack of recorded 
information. Conclusions must be limited to the available information. 

Haematite was the pigment most often mentioned, but was not as widely 
used as by the Hottentots. Red ochre was used mainly by the women for 
cosmetic purposes, sometimes for rituals, and very rarely by the men for rituals 
and dancing. Among a few groups clothing was sometimes coloured with red 
ochre. Medicinal use was rarely recorded. Yellow ochre was seldom used. 
Specularite seems to have been known only to the historical Bushmen of the 


northern and north-western Cape, but the records may be incomplete. These 
were the areas where it was also mainly used by the Hottentots and some 
Tswana peoples. Fat was sometimes, but not often, used with or mixed with 
ground haematite to make a paint. Rarely was fat heated. No other binders for 
haematite were recorded. 

Charcoal, soot, or ash were used mainly for rubbing into cicatrization scars 
to leave a permanent colour. Sometimes the pigment consisted of special burnt 
herbs or food. Charcoal or ash was sometimes smeared on bodies or faces for 
cosmetic or ritual purposes. Medicinal use was mainly for rubbing into medicinal 
cicatrization cuts. Fat was occasionally mixed with or used with charcoal to make 
a cosmetic paint. 

Plant pigments were, and still are, obtained mainly from woods, roots, and 
bark (usually red), from roasted oily kernels and seeds (usually black, perhaps 
from the roasting), and sometimes from a fungus (red, yellow, or yellow- 
brown). The main uses were cosmetic and ritual; men generally used the black, 
women the red pigments, and fat was occasionally a binder. The use of 
powdered red wood might have been because of a scarcity of haematite in some 
areas. These pigments sometimes served as buchu too. Skins for clothing were 
coloured with the red plant pigments and with tanning agents such as wood or 
bark, which gave red, yellow, or brown colours. 

White clay and other unidentified white substances were used, usually for 
making stripes on the body. The use of white ash was also recorded. 

Patterns and, very occasionally, masks on faces were painted by various 
groups, but fewer records exist than in the case of the Hottentots. Women were 
the main users, both for cosmetic and ritual purposes. Bodies of men and 
women were occasionally painted with patterns, apparently for ritual or festive 

The reasons for using body pigments and paints were for cosmetic purposes 
and for protecting the skin by women, and for ritual purposes by men and 
women. Men seldom used paints for festive occasions and it was not recorded 
among all groups. 

There is some evidence that some Bushmen used paints for making rock 

There was no evidence that urine, stomach liquid, milk, egg, or plant juices 
were used as media with pigments for making these paints. There was no further 
corroboration of Harm's (1879) claim that 'Bushmen' in southern South West 
Africa had used gum and honey with their paints (as noted in a previous 
section). Blood was used by one group for body decoration. The information 
that blood had been used in Lesotho for rock paintings was hearsay, and no 
further evidence for this was found. 

The media for paints used by the Bushmen were various kinds of fat, 
including vegetable fat, but the pigments were not always mixed with fat and 
could be used on their own. 



J. van Riebeeck in 1660 

On 14 December 1660, an expedition into the interior encountered Bushmen, 'a certain 
small poor people . . . they know how to kill game for their food; they also subsist upon honey; 
they are clothed with much worse skins (of wild animals) than the Hottentoos, and they are not 
so greasy, for greasiness is a mark of opulence and condition. . .' (in Moodie 1838: 223-224). 

S. van der Stel (1685-6) 

West of present-day Porterville his expedition met 'Sonquas' or 'Obiquas': 'They carried 
arrows, bow and assegai. They have no cattle, living on honey and the wild animals they shoot. 
Their skin was very rough and scurvy owing to the frequent hunger they endure and the lack of 
fat with which to smear themselves' (p. 117). 

H. J. Wikar (1779) 

Near the Orange River, a Bushman woman 'came stealthily and sprinkled red buchu, 
obtained by powdering camel-thorn wood (Kameeldoornhout) over a Namaqua Hottentot, 
whereupon he gave her a fragment of tobacco and a handful of dagga. . . . Now for the rest of 
their lives they call each other man and wife and may not refuse each other's requests, if they 
have the thing that is asked' (pp. 63-64). 

F. le Vaillant (1790) 

Bushmen used powder-boxes of wood, ivory and tortoise-shell in which they kept the fat to 
use with buchu. Both sexes rubbed themselves with buchu and fat. Animal fat was used. If 
none was available, they fried out ant larvae and collected the oil. 

C. P. Thunberg (1793) 

'Boschiesmen . . . besmear themselves with greasy substances, and over that with red 
chalk' (2: 175). 

Bushmen and Hottentots immunized themselves against poisonous bites 'by suffering 
themselves to be gradually bitten by serpents, scorpions and other venomous creatures . . . the 
urine of an Hottentot thus prepared is esteemed an excellent antidote or counterpoison, and is 
therefore drunk by such as have been bitten by serpents' (2: 163). 

W. Somerville (1799-1802) 

The Bushman's hair was matted with fat. Thongs hanging down from the head were well 
smeared with grease (p. 27). Their bodies were besmeared with grease (p. 81). At the Orange 
River they besmeared themselves with grease and 'pounded iron ore'; they ground fat 'between 
two stones with powdered red ochre to smear their bodies'. They drank melted fat (p. 82). 

J. Barrow (1806) 

'It did not appear from those we saw that they were in the habit of applying unctuous 
substances to the body any further than by wiping their greasy hands on the skin; but the hair 
and faces of many of them had been rubbed with red ochre after the manner of the Kaffers, and 
a few had the face painted black, as if they wore a mask: this they usually do with the kernel of 
a small nut burnt in the fire. The oil expressed from this nut is considered by them as a 
preventive against stiffness in the joints, and by the colonists as an excellent topical application 
for rheumatic complaints. . . . The Hottentot name of the plant is kai, and the nut resembles 
the seed of the tea-shrub' (1: 245). 

H. Lichtenstein (1811) 

In or near the Roggeveld two tiny Bushmen were encountered: a thick layer of ash and fat 
covered their faces and thin limbs like a crust; only under the eyes, where tears from the fire 
had cleaned the dirt, could one make out the yellow skin (1: 187). Their woolly hair, smeared 
over with grease and dust and twisted into countless little knots, hung below their leather caps 
(1: 189). 

Near Prieska, at the Orange River, a band of Bushmen was seen: the girls and children had 
a shaven ring round the head and the hair and faces were powdered thickly with bright yellow 
ochre powder ('Eisenocker') (2: 387). 


Bushmen were seen on several occasions, specially along the Orange River, and they 
frequently had grease on their faces; the face of one man was covered with black grease. 

J. Campbell (1822) 

The Bushmen 'did not paint their bodies and were all of diminutive size' (2: 44); Campbell 
journeyed in Griqualand West and saw painted 'Bechuana' and Hottentots; but at Ramah, 
'where a native Griqua teacher resided as a missionary to the wild Bushmen in that part of the 
country', Campbell visited Keewit, 'the captain of the Bushmen in that part of the country. . . ; 
the only person employed in the group was a young woman grinding a red stone into powder 
for painting their bodies' (2: 301-2). 

W. J. Burchell (1822-4) 

He saw Bushmen in Bushmanland: 'Their skin was of a sallow brown colour, darkened by 
dirt and grease' (1: 205). 

At the Gariep (Orange) River were a party of Bushmen: 'Their clothing was greasy 
leather, reddened with ochre, and the apparent colour of their skin was the same' (1: 229). 
North of the river he saw a pretty Bushman girl using an 'immoderate quantity of grease, red 
ochre, buchu and shining powder with which her hair was clotted. Herself and every part of her 
dress were . . . well greased' (1: 287). His footnote here referred to the shining powder 'called 
Blink-klip (shining rock) by the Klaarwater Hottentots and Sibilo by the Bichuanas'. Also north 
of the river impoverished Bushmen complained to him about how long they had been without 
grease or animal food. Ostrich egg was part of the Bushman diet (1: 316). The hair of a female 
was 'clotted together in large lumps with the accumulated grease and dust of years'. The 
Bushmen drank a bowl of liquid hippo grease and smeared the remainder on their bodies 
(1: 318). 

His legend to plate 6 of a 'portrait of a Bushman playing on the Gorah' adds that his dress 
'reddened by an ochraceous earth, consists only of a leathern kaross' (1: 318). 

G. Thompson (1827) 

Bushman 'slang-meesters' attained invulnerability to snake-bite by poison-eating; they 
applied urine to a snakebite (1: 400). 

J. Burrow (1834-6) 

He was possibly referring to the Bushmen in Griqualand West when he wrote: 'The women 
daub themselves like the Bechuanas with the red stone, and grease, which they carry round 
their necks in small tortoise-shells' (p. 82). 

A. Smith (1834-6) 

Bushwomen along the Riet River 'used red clay to adorn the face'. They were anxious to 
have fat to grease their bodies (1: 196). 

A. Steedman (1835) 

'They were extraordinarily fond of fat, of which I was enabled to afford them a good 
supply, having lately killed a sheep' (1: 150). 

J. E. Alexander (1838) 

The Bushmen ate honey, ostrich eggs (1: 52), and gum (1: 242). Euphorbia milk was 
boiled till black for poison (1: 284). 

R. Moffat (1845) 

He quoted the missionary Kicherer at Zak Rivier: 'Their manner of life is extremely 
wretched and disgusting. They delight to besmear their bodies with the fat of animals, mingled 
with ochre, and sometimes with grime' (p. 49). 

T. Arbousset & F. Daumas (1846) 

(In the following paragraph it is not clear whether Bushmen or Hottentots are being 
referred to, probably Bushmen, but Theal noted that these authors confused Hottentots with 


The heads of the women are always uncovered, their hair -is always plastered with ochre, 
fat and the powder of an aromatic wood called bogo, a little bag full of which they carry 
constantly with them for ordinary use. They speckle the face and breast with red and yellow 
paint and white clay, so as to frighten strangers' (p. 247). 

'The wives and daughters of the Bushmen in the neighbourhood of Bethulie extract, from 
the bosjes-spruit, copper ore, which they burn in the fire, and then by bruising the ashes 
between two stones, they obtain a hair powder which is very much sought after. They pound 
also the copper, and turn it to the same use in some villages in the neighbourhood of Moriah. 
They collect it in a ravine at Thaba Patsoa, a little below Jammersberg, on the Caledon, where 
they find also asbestos, which the women among the Baroas [Bushmen] reduce in like manner 
to powder, and put it in their hair' (p. 248). 

'The dead have first the head anointed with red powder mixed with melted fat and then 
they were coarsely embalmed' (p. 254). (In the French edition this is 'grossierement parfumee'; 
Schapera (1930) translated this as 'rudely perfumed'; in Stow (1905) this passage from the 
English edition is also quoted as relating to Bushmen, but Solas (1915) said that Stow was 
mistaken, that Arbousset meant that this was the custom of adjacent Negro tribes; Schapera 
accepted this as Bushman. Arbousset clearly stated that this was a Bushman custom in those 

J. Chapman (1849-63, 1868) 

Some Bushmen among the Ngwato 'would have liked to go with us as our servants for the 
sake of eating plenty of fat' (1849-63 1: 61). 

Also among the 'Bechuana' a Bushman girl 'came with a dish of red powder obtained from 
roots and powdered our guide over head and face, muttering some words. This they call 
doctoring against the evil spirit porrah, who would otherwise harm him for having brought such 
a surprise to them'(1849-63 1: 66). 

After eating 'they rub the grease off their hands onto their bellies or heads' (1849- 
63 1:68). 

For candles 'gnu fat is too hard, but mixed with eland fat it is good' (1849-63 1: 71). 

'The Bushmen and other natives press an oil from the seeds of the fruit of the "morofono- 
goe" (plum)' round Lake Ngami (1868 2: 8). 

W. C. Harris (1852) 

His camp near the 'Vet Rivers' (Griqualand West) was visited by a group of Bushwomen: 
one was 'far more elaborately embellished with red clay and ornaments of fat' than the others 
(p. 262). His plate 26 shows her with a pattern of red lines on her chest and a red stripe on each 
upper arm. Young Bushwomen bedaub their noses and cheekbones with a mixture of red ochre 
and fat (p. 36). 

D. Livingstone (1857) 

Poison is obtained from a caterpillar called N'gwa. 'As the Bushmen have the reputation of 
curing the wounds of this poison, I asked how this was effected. They said that they administer 
the caterpillar itself in combination with fat; they also rub fat into the wound, saying that "the 
N'gwa wants fat, and when it does not find it in the body, kills the man'" (p. 149). 

J. A. Grant in 1860 

Casada (1974) quoted from Grant's Cape diary and sketches: 'Mrs Bell sent for (a) 
Bushman girl to show us. . . . (According to) Bell's sketch (she had) drooping eyelids and (the) 
painted skin of a Bushman.' 

T. Baines (1864) 

Baines recorded his travels in South West Africa. He described the plant that the Bushmen 
used as an antidote for the arrow poison taken from a grub, 'the root of which is chewed and 
rubbed on the scarified wound, grease being applied afterwards' (pp. 252, 255). 

He said of Bushwomen: T am not aware that I have yet seen any with red clay like the 
Damaras' (Herero) (p. 99). 

J. Leyland (1866) 

The 'Bakalaharis' and Bushmen 'besmear themselves freely with fat and grease' (p. 157). 


J. Chapman (1868) (see Chapman 1849-63, 1868) 

T. Hahn (1870) 

Leaves of Diosma spp. were pounded to a powder for a perfume (p. 82). Diosma salve was 
kept in tortoise-shells (p. 104). The heads of the dead were rubbed with buchu (p. 141). 
Bushmen painted themselves with greasy ochre colours (p. 103). 

G. Fritsch (1872) 

The Bushmen sometimes used ochre on their skins, and more seldom fat, if available 
(p. 428). 

The plant poison is sticky. Amaryllis juice was used for sticking together broken pots 
(p. 431). 

Urine was used to neutralize poison when 'people' were shot with arrows. He quoted 
Baines that fat was used with a plant 'by natives' in similar circumstances (p. 436). 

E. J. Dunn (1873) (see also Dunn 1931) 

He saw Bushmen at Zak Rivier: 'A brush made from the long hairs of a hyena ... is used 
for "whipping" ostrich eggs in the shell.' 'These ladies are given to painting themselves' (p. 35). 

F. Ratzel (1885) 

He quoted Lichtenstein's remark on the skins of Bushmen being covered with ash and fat 
(p. 59). Ratzel noted that all who wanted to study the colour of their skins complained about 
the crust on their skins, partly there by negligence, partly on purpose, and that according to Th. 
Hahn one of them said the encrustation kept them warm; however, it occurred in the Bushmen 
who were somewhat influenced by the Hottentot culture only through smearing with the 
much-loved buchu ointment; in the original Bushmen it was the result of their habits (p. 60). 

A. A. Anderson (1888) 

In the Kalahari at Hoab, 'on the desert-track from the lake to Ovampoland' he saw a 'Bush 
girl . . . marked over every part of her body — face, legs and arms — with white stripes, like the 
stripes of a zebra, and had nothing else on . . . she was even strange to my Bushmen. It was a 
strange visit, and a strange mode of decorating herself. The only other occasion on which I fell 
in with Bushmen so marked was more to the east, nearly 300 miles, when nearly a dozen came 
to my waggon to tell me I had that day ridden over a grave where a few days before they had 
buried one of their people. The stripes may have something to do with death, but the Bushmen 
I have spoken to know nothing of such custom' (pp. 223-224). (See also Dornan 1925 herein.) 

He encountered Bushmen in small kraals: 'These women daub their faces and bodies with 
black stripes, which they consider ornamental' (p. 229). 

H. Schinz (1891) 

He experimented to see whether Bushman 'doctors' did, indeed, obtain immunity against 
poisonous bites by rubbing the poison from snakes or scorpions mixed with water and urine into 
cuts in the skin: twelve scorpions were placed on different parts of a Bushman 'doctor's' body: 
he was stung by all and snowed no adverse symptoms (p. 395). (See also Schapera 1930: 

P. Moller (1899) 

In northern South West Africa, below Ovamboland, he saw (Hai// 9 om 9 ) Bushmen who 
used ostrich egg-shells for water containers: they ate wild honey (pp. 148-149). 

G. W. Stow (1905) 

(The published work suffers from lack of adequate referencing, additions made after 
Stow's death in 1882, and other editorial faults.) 

The following information, taken from Arbousset & Daumas (1846: 254) was published in 
Stow (1905: 126): 'The dead were first anointed with red powder mixed with melted fat and 
then they were coarsely embalmed.' (In the original French version this was 'grossierement 
parfumee'; Solas (1915) said Stow was mistaken here, that Arbousset meant this was the 
custom of the adjacent Negro tribes, but Schapera (1930) also accepted this as Bushman.) 


The next paragraph (Stow 1905: 45) was taken unacknowledged from Arbousset & 
Daumas (1846: 247): 'They speckled their faces and breasts with red and yellow paint and white 
clay.' The information that follows (Stow 1905: 45) sounds much like that of Anderson 
(1888: 223-224) and might have been added by Stow's editor: 'The men indulged in this fashion 
of painting their bodies, sometimes in zebra-like parallel lines, sometimes the lines were drawn 
diagonally across their bodies, at others they covered themselves with a series similar to 
chevronels, and again others employed a combination of these different modes of ornamenta- 

It may be that the above-mentioned information was influenced by his study of rock 
paintings, as the following information (Stow 1905: 113) reminds strongly of painted human 
figures in the rock art: for dancing and in the great hunts 'they painted their bodies, some 
covering them with red, white and yellow spots; some entirely with red, others in parti- 
colours, as one portion of the body black, for instance the legs and arms and the lower part 
to the waist, the remainder white; or the colours might be reversed, or red or yellow might be 
substituted for either the black or white or both. Another fashion was to adorn one side of 
the body with one colour, the other with another, by way of contrast; sometimes the whole 
would be painted black, red or some other colour, and these again ornamented with spots, or 
straight or zigzag lines, or a combination of all these devices. These were intended for their 
gala costumes and were only indulged in before their enemies began to vent their remorseless 
rage upon them.' 

Stow (p. 49) mentioned that Campbell had encountered a family of Bushmen: 'The mother 
had a stroke of dark blue, like tattooing, from the upper part of her brow to her nose, about 
half an inch broad, and two similar strokes on her temples. The man had several cuts on his 
arms and smaller ones on his temples, and so had the children, which they said was done to 
cure sickness. The dark colour of these cuts was produced by rubbing ground charcoal into the 
wounds when they were green.' 

'Baines noticed that one of these Damara Bushmen had a tinge of red on his cheeks' 
(p. 138). Baines was again quoted: 'In some the hair was shaved round the temples, ears and 
back of the head, what remained on the scalp being felted with red clay and grease into a thick 
mat' (p. 139). 

The missionary Kicherer, who worked among the Bushmen at Zak Rivier settlement 
(abandoned in 1806), was quoted as saying that 'they delighted to besmear their bodies with the 
fat of animals, mingled with ochre' (Stow 1905: 160), to which Stow added 'probably the black 
sooty paint with which they frequently painted their bodies'. (This quotation was actually in 
Moffat (1845: 49) (see herein) who quoted Kicherer.) 

A copy of a painting was shown to an old Bushman; 'he explained it as representing two 
Bushman hunters who had painted their bodies, in their hunting disguises, chasing a jackal', but 
Stow added that the same painting shown by J. Orpen to another Bushman was described as 
connected with myths (p. 123). 

'The great happiness of the Bushman was, however, in his honey harvest, when the combs 
of the wild bees' nests were dropping with honey. It was then that he brewed his primitive 
mead, with which a certain root was mixed which rendered the beverage more intoxicating' 
(p. 53). 

G. E. Westphal in 1906 

On 18 October 1906, this missionary at Pniel sent L. Peringuey (South African Museum) 
'two mushrooms used by the natives and in earlier times by Bushmen. The one, like a bulb, is 
the yellow, like ocker, the other brown like umber. The yellow was used with fat to have a coat 
of paint all over the body to protect it against cold and heat; the second is a mushroom growing 
on antheaps and was used as a food when in a fresh state' (South African Museum files). (See 
also Westphal in the section on historical Hottentots.) 

S. Passarge (1907) 

The Bushmen of the Kalahari used fat in their hair with red ochre ('Eisenoxyd'). In 'the 
south' they used buchu salve as did the Hottentots. Among the 'Naron' buchu was burnt on the 
grave the day after the funeral. Wood ash was rubbed into cicatrization cuts to make them 


L. Schultze (1907) 

The 'Masarwa' sealed tortoise carapaces with beeswax instead of the gum used by 
Hottentots. Inside were fat and charcoal with which the women besmeared themselves, to 
become fat again after lean times. The upper aperture was closed with a small bird's nest. 

E. Seydel (1910) 

The Namib Bushmen sprinkled the grave with water mixed with vegetable medicine to 
keep away jackals and hyenas. 

W. E. Stanford (1910) 

According to information obtained from Silyai, who lived among Bushmen in the 
Drakensberg in about 1850, the Bushmen made poison from the root of a shrub and bark of a 
tree, boiled in a clay pot to a black jelly. Material for painting their caves was 'taken out of the 
ground'; 'some kinds were prepared at the fire. They could paint very well.' The brushes were 
'hairs taken out of the tail or mane of a gnu', tied together and fastened to a thin reed. 

P. Trenk (1910) 

The Namib Bushmen drank honey beer at a funeral feast. 

W. H. I. Bleek & L. C. Lloyd (1911) 

'They pound red stones, they paint the feather brush sticks' made of ostrich feathers and 
used as disguises in hunting. A footnote here reads: 'The red stones here meant are Ilka; not 
ttd. At the "Philadelphia Exhibition" in November, 1875, Dialkwain recognized red haematite 
as Ilka* (p. 359). (Dialkwain was a Bushman informant and servant.) 

Klein Jantjie, a Bushman from the northern Cape, told that llhdra is black; the people 
(having mixed it with fat) anoint their heads with it; while ttd is red, and the people rub their 
bodies with it, when they have pounded it. . . . They pound llhdra, they anoint their heads 
when they have first pounded the ttd; they first rub their bodies with ttd. And they pound 
llhdra, they anoint their heads . . . while they wish that their heads' hair may descend (i.e. grow 
long) and it becomes abundant on account of it . . . llhdra sparkles; therefore our heads 
shimmer on account of it. Therefore the Bushmen are wont to say, when the old women are 
talking there: "That man, he is a handsome man on account of his head, which is surpassingly 
beautiful on account of the llhdrd's blackness'" (pp. 375-377). A footnote here reads, 'a certain 
stone which is said to be both hard and soft'. 

These Bushmen bartered or exchanged hdra and ttd among themselves. 

In a story a man rubbed a woman's aching neck with fat. 

'They anoint the pot with fat, while they wish the pot not to split . . . while the pot is still 
damp . . . because they wish the pot to dry when it has fat upon it (inside and out). When the 
pot dries, they also prepare gum; they pound it . . . they put it into the pot; and they pour in 
water . . . it . . . boils.' A footnote here reads: 'they smear the pot outside (with gum taken out 
with the spoon . . .) while they wish this gum to adhere to the outside of the pot.' Blood was 
next boiled in the pot, then taken out with a horn spoon and the remaining blood was left to 
dry on the pot. Then meat and water were boiled in the pot that was then ready (p. 345). 

There are various references in the stories to buchu: a man and his sister were rubbed with 
buchu (p. 117); a woman threw buchu on a man's forehead (p. 195); a woman rubbed a man 
with buchu (p. 197); and a woman burnt buchu and rubbed herself with buchu to take away 
another smell (pp. 197-198). 

L. Currle (1913) 

Currle obtained this information from a farmer: 'The women are very fond of painting 
their faces with a certain kind of stone ... no doubt haematite; they powder this on a flat stone 
by means of a round pounder or pestle about 3 inches in diameter. Another paint ... is 
derived from a species of mushroom which grows in the shade under trees and bushes in 
Fraserburg and Calvinia districts and called by them "ajous"; it contains a fine red powder 
which they mix with the fat of an animal. Preferably ostrich fat is used by them for painting on 
rocks with this ajous powder, as this special fat is said to cause the paint to become lasting and 
hard, imparting with age a dark brownish colour similar to enamel.' 


E. Fischer (1913) 

The poorer Bushmen in South West Africa have a tortoise-shell container filled with 
buchu; the back opening is closed with resin and the front with a powder-puff of jackal tail, 
quite the same as the Hottentots. The yellow-brown aromatic powder is especially used to 
powder the breast and armpits when breast-feeding, otherwise the milk will not have a good 
effect on the child. Only the poor ones still paint themselves and then rarely, especially at the 
time of menstruation when they use the same red powder as that of the Hottentots, a dark-red, 
soft sandstone containing iron oxide and feldspar. 

G. M. Theal (1916, 1919) 

Bushmen anointed their bodies with grease and then painted themselves with soot or 
coloured clay (1916: 2). 

They ate honey and fermented it to make an intoxicating drink (1919: 51). 

S. S. Dornan (1917) 

The 'Masarwas' of the Sansokwe and Motloutsi Rivers smeared themselves with rancid fat. 

S. S. Dornan (1925) 

The Bushmen smeared their bodies with rancid grease, soot, and dust (p. 48); they 
smeared themselves with fat to protect themselves against the elements (pp. 49, 89); 'they mix 
red and white clay with fat and put it on all over the front of the head, face and body' (p. 89); 
the footnote here reads: 'The Bushmen of Lake Ngami use the oil extracted from the seeds of 
Ochna schweinfurthiana to grease their bodies with.' 'They say that the fat and clay not only 
keeps out the cold and heat, but prevents the skin from cracking, either from the sun or from 
frost' (p. 89). 

'Sometimes the bow is smeared with grease to prevent it from cracking or shrinking' 
(p. 95). 

'Sometimes they paint their faces with white and black stripes as a sign that they have had 
a death in the encampment. I have heard' of their painting the whole body with red and white 
stripes but I must say I have never come across any thus decorated. Young women who have 
been deeply attached to their husbands ... do this, and Anderson {Twenty -five years in a 
waggon) mentions having seen a young woman thus decorated but could not say whether it was 
really a sign of mourning or not. His own Bushmen knew nothing of such a custom; but little 
reliance can be placed on their denials of anything connected with their own customs as they 
are so unwilling to give information' (p. 146). (See also Anderson 1888 herein.) 

Dornan described a 'half-bred Bushman' painting on rocks (see section on theories and 
experiments in connection with rock paintings). 

The Bushmen are fond of honey (p. 180). 

L. Fourie (1927, 1928) 

In the 'Hei-//om' female initiation the girl was isolated in a small hut during the first 
menstrual flow. 'Daily applications of Igub, a red powder obtained by pulverising the bark of a 
tree, and of the roasted and powdered fat-containing seed of the ^erob tree, are made to her 
hair by the attendant.' Dancing followed for three or four days. On the last day the adolescent 
boys passed her hut and each pressed his scrotum against her hand held through an opening in 
the hut, to protect against swelling of the testicles. Her body was then rubbed down with a 
preparation of roots (1928: 90-91). (See also Fourie 1927.) 

Among the l 4 Ao-//ein', one of the rites during the period of isolation of male initiates (a 
month or longer), is that 'they are required to partake of the "devil's urine"' (Fourie did not 
explain this). 'Their bodies are blackened from head to foot with powdered, roasted //noun 
(one of the staple vegetable foods of the Kalahari Bushmen).' On one of the mornings their 
hands were washed with water by the elders; they were taken to a pan to walk through the 
water. They were introduced to the 'devil' and ate honey brought by him. On another day their 
bodies were cleansed with chewed, roasted 1 1 noun. On having passed the test as a hunter, the 
initiate was tattooed with the meat from the animals he had shot (1928: 91-92). 

When an animal was slaughtered, 'bags' were made from the stomach and into these the 
blood was collected. Blood and marrow were cooked in separate pots. Some cooked meat was 
ritually tasted and pounded with a stone, added to the blood, and the melted marrow was also 


added to form a special dish (1928: 100). Roasted plant food was also pounded and mixed with 
boiled blood (1928: 104). 

'Among the most northerly groups . . . arrow poison and red ochre [sic], obtained from the 
wood of the omuva tree, are the principal media of exchange' (1928: 103). 

'Buchu (tsa) is . . . sprinkled over the grave to make the spirit of the departed happy so 
that it may not return at night to molest the others; further, water is poured over or left at the 
grave in order that the spirit may not interfere with the rain' (1928: 104). 

D. F. Bleek (1928a) 

The Bushmen of central Angola were very mixed racially. 

They occasionally rubbed faces and limbs with fat or castor oil, the latter obtained from the 
Bantu, and used aromatic herbs as powder. They did not wash. Sometimes the women 
unwound their tight curls, mixed them with fat and drew them out into tassels approximately '5 
inches' long. 

For scarification the men rubbed herbs into the wounds, but the colour was the same as the 
rest of the skin. Darkened scars were made by rubbing the cuts on the arms or chest of a hunter 
with blackened meat. Some youths had very dark scars on their faces but no explanation was 
received for these. Women had cuts darkened with charcoal on their faces, upper arms, or 
thighs at the time of initiation. This was partly for ornament, but Bleek thought they were 
partly of religious significance. Two women had been tattooed by their husbands at the time of 
marriage — one had a black line from one cheekbone to the other across the forehead. 

'The Iku of these parts do not paint or smear themselves very much. I have seen a little 
ochre rubbed on for a dance. White wood ash is dabbed on for ceremonies.' A woman who said 
she was a medicine-woman showed how she and her co-workers spotted their breasts with ash. 
(See also Bleek in Stow & Bleek 1930, pi. 29.) 

Fetish sticks were forked sticks planted upright in the ground near huts or sleeping-places 
and on which implements for the chase were hung or laid. The sticks were smeared with blood 
from any animal killed 'to bring luck'. 

Beeswax and honey were exchanged for other things they needed, e.g. Bantu ware. 

D. F. Bleek (19286) (see also Bleek 1935, 1936, 1942) 

The Naron men made the clothes; they tanned the skins and rubbed in a mixture of fat and 
'red clay' (p. 9). 

'The Naron adorn themselves with black and red paint. The black is charcoal, the red is 
clay brought from afar. The mixture is rubbed on with a finger, chiefly over the eyes, on the 
cheekbone and around the mouth. Young women and girls get themselves up thus for a dance 
and occasionally the young men paint too. Girls going to be married or desirous of being 
married smear red paint round the eyes' (p. 10). 'Some women uncurl the little clusters of hair 
and roll them out with fat so that they hang down a couple of inches, making a fringe round the 
head. . . . The little one's hair has a tendency to grow far down on the forehead and into the 
neck. To prevent this mothers smear a band of red clay and fat round the edge of the hair' 
(p. 12). 

'Both sexes are tattooed by making slight incisions about an inch long into the skin and 
rubbing ash black into the wounds. Women are tattooed for ornament only on the face, thighs 
and buttocks. . . . Very frequently one sees women with a black stripe tattooed down the 
centre of the forehead, one or two horizontal ones at the corners of the eyes and a whole forest 
of slanting cuts on the buttocks and outside of the thighs.' The reason was 'that the men may 
see us pretty' (pp. 10-11). 

The men had three kinds of cuts; the vertical ones between the eyebrows made at the time 
of initiation had powdered acid roots, but no colouring matter, rubbed into the wounds. 'All 
Kung, Auen or Naron men and big lads that I have seen have these cuts. They are said to be 
given to make the lads see well, i.e. give them good luck in shooting, but are evidently a tribal 
mark connected with their religion. The Southern Bushmen do not have them.' 'These cuts are 
often half covered by a real tattoo mark — a dark stripe down the middle of the forehead. . . . 
Many men have it, also horizontal tattoo marks at the corners of the eyes. These, I believe, arc 
for the purposes of ornament.' 'Thirdly one finds on any part of a man's body, especially on the 
arms and chest . . . cuts; in the older ones the colour has often faded. Old men tattoo a 
successful hunter ... in order to give him good luck in finding the next buck"; a tiny bit of the 


biceps muscle of the foreleg is burnt to ashes and rubbed into the cut. 'The Auen have all the 
tattoo marks mentioned above. The Nusan make a few tattoo marks for ornament only, 
generally at the corners of the eyes, women also on the legs' (p. 11). 

'Rubbing the face and body with fat and powdering with buchu is done by old and young. 
It is their method of washing. I have seen a woman pick up some tiny nutty berries, crack the 
shell, crush the kernels in her palm, spit on them, and rub her face and neck with the greasy 
mess.' 'Many women carry small tortoise-shells filled with powdered buchu with a bit of soft 
bird's nest, or else of jackal's skin, stuck in the top as a puff, and powder their face and body.' 
'There are half a dozen aromatic herbs at Sandfontein all called by the Hottentot name of 
"buchu". Real washing with water is only done by those Bushmen who have been much with 
Europeans' (p. 12). 

'The women also wear various spicy roots suspended from the neck, partly as a charm, 
partly to nibble from' (p. 10). 

'Massage, perspiration and suggestion seem to be the means used' by the medicine-men. 
'When a man is ill . . . he takes a burning stick, plants it in the ground between his knees, burns 
buchu and snuffs it and recovers.' 'For burns and sores, buchu and similar herbs are rubbed on' 
(p. 29). Buchu is burnt on a grave the day after a burial (p. 35). Various herbs are used for 
toilet and ceremonial purposes (p. 67). 

Termites 'are considered a great dainty on account of their fat, in which a Bushman menu 
is often lacking, as only a few nuts of all the vegatable food contain fat, and most smaller bucks 
have little. Hence there is a great rejoicing over a fat eland or a successful haul of termites' 
(p. 17). 

Various plant juices are used, also for mixing with the arrow poisons. The juice from the 
chewed bark of 'hakdoorn' is clear, bitter and sticky and adheres to the arrow point (p. 14). 

Honey and ostrich eggs are eaten, beads are made from the egg-shells (pp. 7, 9). 

P. W. Laidler (1928) 

'The thorn tree sucker was put to many uses. The Bushman used its ashes to blacken his 

V. Lebzelter (1929, 1930) (see also Lebzelter 1934) 

Among the !kung in Ovamboland and northern South West Africa, the body was smeared 
with red ochre before burial. 

When a !kung woman is pregnant, a pot may not be put on a fire before she has smeared 
herself with the soot on it (Lebzelter 1929). 

In the vicinity of 'Umzinkulu', a 75-year-old Scottish farmer who had known Bushmen as a 
young boy, recounted that the Bushmen had mixed the juice of a bulb with pigments for a 
durable paint (Lebzelter 1930) (for rock paintings?). 

I. SCHAPERA (1930) 

(Schapera tended to generalize and quoted from others, but the sources are not always 
clear; where they are clear, the information which has already been given under the names of 
the original authors is not repeated here, unless necessary.) 

Before, during and immediately after the birth the mother was not to be washed with 
water, nor the child, which was simply wiped off with soft grass (p. 114). (The reference is 
probably Kaufman, H. 1910. Die Auin. Ein Beitrage zur Buschmannforschung. Mitt, deuts. 
Schutzgeb. 23: 135-160 — as given by Schapera.) 

Schapera quoted Fourie (1927) regarding the 'Heikum' female puberty ceremony and drew 
attention to the similar ceremony among the Nama (see Hoernle 1918), but noted that it also 
presented features noted in the corresponding ceremonies of other Bushman groups — but did 
not say which (pp. 120-121). 

Vegetable juice and powdered, dry snake poison were cooked together to form a thick 
substance, usually like a jelly. A vegetable poison from the wood of a shrub, boiled down to a 
thick substance, was mixed with fresh Euphorbia juice. When required, the lump was heated 
and melted (p. 131). 

Immunity to poisons was achieved by diluting the poison of a snake or scorpion with water 
and urine and rubbing it into small cuts in the skin, or the poison sacks were pulped and boiled 
and swallowed in small doses (various nineteenth century references were given) (p. 217). 


Cicatrization was discussed (e.g. pp. 70 ff.) and the reasons for it were given as 
ornamental, puberty ceremonies, social, and hunting observances. 

Ashes from burnt plant materials were rubbed into small cuts in a patient's body (p. 215). 

E. J. Dunn (1931) (see also Dunn 1873) 

Sap from plants and roots were used in tanning skins. Skins for honey bags were not 
tanned but were specially prepared by 'braying' and rubbing fat into them. Honey was a 
frequent article of diet (pp. 24-25). 

Birds' eggs, especially ostrich eggs, were relished (p. 29). 

'Unlike most native races, the Bushman did not appear to protect himself from the weather 
by greasing his skin and coating himself with red ochre. This may have been due to the fact that 
fat was scarce. For festivals and dances, however, he used both grease and pigments, red ochre 
being the chief colour employed' (p. 36). 

'The Bushman did not indulge in hand washing. . .' (p. 37). 

T. Roos (1931) 

The area where the burial of a !kau boy was seen is north of Grootfontein, near 
Karakuwesa, in South West Africa. At the werf of six crude shelters, 'the bereaved mother, 
covered with ash, was sitting on the pile of ashes alongside the fire'. 'A wild orange shell which 
was filled with Una (powder) was broken and the contents strewn over the grave.' 'At death, 
three incisions are cut between the eyes of the nearest relatives of the dead person. Into these 
cuts Una is rubbed by a medicine-man or the oldest in a werf. This is a precautionary measure 
taken to prevent the relatives contracting the disease of which a person dies.' 

M. Wilman (1933) 

Wilman's plate 2 shows examples of / 9 auni and Xatia Bushman art on skin bags, knapsacks 
and a kaross. The legend reads: 'The vanity bag holds, inter alia, tortoise-shell pots, each 
containing "buchu powder" and puff. For tanning the skin the rootstock of the Elandsboontjie 
{Elephantorrhiza burchellii (Benth.)) is used; this stains the fell a rich khaki colour. In 
decorating it the hair is either partly removed, or it is all removed, and the pattern is obtained 
by scraping the skin so as to reveal the undyed portion beneath.' 

V. Lebzelter (1934) (see also Lebzelter 1929, 1930) 

'Heikom' women have fat and powder containers. Powder is kept in tortoise-shells closed 
with resin. Buchu is called sawa. Fat, 4nuii, is kept in a piece of hollow bone with a lid of 
leather at each end. It is usually mixed with red ochre, \gorob. The 'Heikom' tattoo themselves. 
They mix medicinal herbs with fat (pp. 84-85). 

Among the !kung the body of a dead man is covered with green aromatic powder — herbs — 
and ochre before being wrapped in his kaross (p. 31). The !kung witchdoctor or rainmaker uses 
'ochre with medicine' in a ceremony (p. 53). 

The 'Masarwa' paint their bodies red or white (p. 63). (Lebzelter did not say in which 

D. F. Bleek (1935, 1936, 1942) (see also Bleek 1928a, 1928ft) 

(The 1935 and 1936 references deal with /xam Bushmen.) 

The back of the sorcerer (or medicine-man) is rubbed with fat while he is curing a person, 
according to a Bushman from the Strontbergen (near Vanwyksvlei), and another Bushman said 
the people give the sorcerer buchu to smell, 'and he sneezes the lion out', or whatever is 
bothering a patient. A Bushman from the Katkop Hills told how a woman sorcerer 'took 
something out of my liver . . . blood came from her nose. . . . She took the blood . . . and 
rubbed me with it, for she wanted me to have that blood's scent.' The same man said: 'When he 
(the sorcerer) returns from the place to which he has gone on a magic expedition, he trembles. 
Then people let him smell buchu, for they want his veins to lie down. . . .' In another story this 
man told how a sorcerer used blood from his nose to paint the body of a patient (Bleek 1935). 

In a story an ostrich is shot and the eggs taken home for food (Bleek 1935). 

A /xam Bushman told that a vegetable medicine or charm was made by burning some of 
the particular plant and rubbing the charcoal into cuts in the skin to make them black. Similar 
cuts were made for pain and for hunting. During a hunt a man 'draws a line of burnt powdered 


wood with his finger down the centre of his forehead and nose, and before he reaches the nose 
tip, turns aside over the middle of his right nostril to the middle of his right cheek' — this is 
apparently for luck (Bleek 1936). 

A patient is rubbed with perspiration and the scent of a plant. The plant is rubbed into cuts 
in the patient's chest; burnt powder is rubbed into cuts on the patient's chest; the scent of this 
plant is used by hunters on their bodies to fool the game (Bleek 1936). 

'All Bushmen paint themselves with red clay or haematite, and with black earth or 
charcoal; this is specially done before dancing. All use fragrant herbs, which they call by the 
same name as buchu for toilet or ceremonial purposes. A small, empty tortoise-shell is carried 
by women as a powder-box, filled with powdered "buchu" and fat. Ornamental tattooing is 
frequently found among the Northern and Central Tribes, a habit evidently borrowed from 
Bantu neighbours' (1942: 4). 

'Both the ceremonies for boys and the tattooing are signs of Bantu influence' (1942: 9). 

R. S. Dart (1937) 

In this work Dart wrote about the / 9 auni-4khomani Bushmen. His plate 78 shows two 
Bushwomen: 'This picture was taken after the slaughtering of some goats as food. Note in the 
daughter especially the smearing of the body with the fresh blood (especially the face and legs) 
and the patterns drawn thereon with the fingers.' His plate 86 (No. 6) shows the same daughter: 
'Her face is decorated with patterns in ash and blood of her own design.' (See Fig. 18 herein.) 

I. D. McCrone (1937) 

Toasted 'tsamma' seeds are ground into meal. 'In addition to serving as food, the tsamma 
meal, which has an oleaginous quality, is also used as a cleansing agent, especially by the 
women. ... A lump of the stuff is chewed and thoroughly moistened by saliva. The paste is 
then smeared over the body and vigorously rubbed into the skin. ... In the very dry 
atmosphere of the Kalahari in the winter time, this treatment has about the same beneficial 
effect as the application of cold cream to the exposed skin surfaces of the European.' (See his 
plates 100-101.) 

J. F. Maingard (1937) 

Instead of bathing, the Bushmen in the Gemsbok Game Reserve 'are very fond of 
smearing their bodies with fat or, when obtainable, Vaseline, which serves the double purpose 
of cleansing . . . the skin and keeping it soft'. 

'They also have the curious custom ... of decorating themselves with the blood of freshly 
killed animals. Thus one day when a goat was slaughtered, I saw some of the children covering 
their legs and faces with the blood of the victim, tracing with their fingers various patterns 
according to their fancy. On enquiry I failed to elicit any special ritualistic significance attached 
to this practice.' 

Various plant medicines are discussed. 

Maingard saw various scarification marks made for medicinal purposes. 'From this we see 
that Schapera's statement that scarification is unknown south of the Molopo is quite incorrect.' 
Scarification is practised in connection with the boy's initiation, called the 'gemsbok play', as 
the gemsbok was formerly important in their social and communal life. 'The old custom of 
scarification is now generally abandoned, or, in some cases, replaced by tattooing in the 
European fashion as seen in the case of one man who has copied from a discarded picture book 
several coloured patterns on his arms and chest, and has added a novel form of decoration in 
the shape of three blue dots on the forehead and on each cheek.' 

H. Vedder (1938) 

A Bushman never dares to wash himself. He declares that his luck in hunting will desert 
him directly he cleanses his skin with water. Encrusted dirt is removed with animal fat or 
vegetable oil (p. 81). During a hunter's initiation, his body is smeared with black oil from 
kernels of a kind of wild plum, roasted until black (p. 84). 

D. F. Bleek (1942) (see Bleek 1935, 1936, 1942) 


A. M. Duggan-Cronin (1942) 

The legend for his plate 7 tells that animal skins for /xam bags or garments are rubbed with 

The legend for plate 12, showing a //tj woman, reads: 'Her coiffure is made by unrolling the 
tight curls in which Bushman hair grows, pulling them out and rolling them with stiff fat.' 

His plate 26 shows a 'Naron' man with vertical initiation cuts between his brows, and plate 
37 shows a 'Heikum' man with similar initiation cuts. 

W. Battiss (1948) 

He saw paint being made by a Kalahari Bushman woman who ground red haematite and 
then mixed this with animal fat to make a red 'crayon'. 

F. Metzger (1950) 

In story form this farmer recorded his observations about some Kalahari !kung Bushmen. 

A black ointment made of burnt foodstuffs is rubbed into the face of an old woman for 
strength (p. 15). 

Bits of meat and fat from various parts of an animal are roasted with the shavings of special 
wood and ground into a powder, which is mixed with the fat of the heart; this ointment, that is 
to give strength, is rubbed into cuts between the eyebrows of boy initiates (p. 70). 

The mother cleanses a new-born baby with raw 'bone-fat' (p. 73). 

The body of a young girl initiate is rubbed with a black, oily ointment made of stamped, 
roasted kernels (p. 73). 

A photograph shows an older woman smearing the ointment with the fingers on the face of 
an initiate — there are short, horizontal lines along the cheekbones, with a long line running 
from there along each side of the jaw-line to the chin. 

'He beautifies his exterior with fat, using it to rub away the dirt of many months, and this 
causes the body to gleam in bronze colours, while the hair is shining black' (p. 75). 

The young girls carry a tortoise-shell beauty-box filled with a 'cream' of fat and the 
secretion of the glands of a 'stink-cat' (p. 76). 

For a dance, the young men smear their bodies with grease. They have blue-black tattoo 
stripes on forehead, chest and arms (p. 76). 

A suitor promises the girl's mother that he will let her (the mother) 'drink much fat' 
(p. 52). After the rains, the women and children catch bull-frogs for eating — the fat is much 
prized (p. 69). At a feast, when a very fat eland has been shot, 'they will make merry, for the 
use of raw and rendered fat lifts a Bushman to undreamed of heights of good humour' (p. 74). 
Marrow-bones are placed in the ashes 'and the marrow is sucked out as soon as it is 
half-melted. Each time the hands come into contact with the fat, they are wiped on a part of the 
body' (p. 75). Fat on game animals is much prized (pp. 74, 79). When an eland is shot, the 
young man gives the breast and heart-fat to his prospective mother-in-law (pp. 58, 79, 80). 'Fat 
and rain are, for a Bushman, the acme of all that is good and beautiful' (p. 75). There is a story 
about a jackal in which fat in a calabash, stolen from the 'Klipkaffers' (Bergdama) plays a 
prominent role (pp. 83 ff.). 

'Herbs' are thrown into a fire to please Haua, a deity of sorts (p. 21). Herbs are thrown 
into a fire so that fate may favour the imminent birth of a child (p. 73). 

P. J. Schoeman (1951) 

(This book is about his experiences with an old 'Haikum' Bushman and his daughter and 
some of the stories that they told him.) 

A wound from a poisoned arrow is treated by cutting out a piece of the flesh from the 
wound and washing the place with a woman's urine. The patient must drink quantities of 
lukewarm water (p. 39). 

When a boy shoots his first guinea-fowl or partridge, he is 'inoculated' with (a paste of) 
wing bones and roots (p. 39). 

In a story, cuts are made in a man's forehead and powdered roots rubbed in (p. 55). 

The author mentions the grease on a Bushman after a feast of meat (pp. 67-68). 

Honey-beer is mentioned in a story (p. 85). 

Buchu is strewn on a grave (p. 87). 


An edible fungus, growing on antheaps after the first rain, is called 'duiwelsbrood' (devil's 
bread) (p. 98). 

Marrow-bones are sucked out, some of the marrow is rubbed on the ears (p. 108). In a 
story, women rub marrow into the backs of their men (p. 133). 

There are various references to buchu in tortoise-shells (e.g. pp. 137, 155). 

There is a description of Bushman hunters straining the stomach contents of a gemsbok 
through twigs and grass — the liquid is drunk (p. 162). 

In the marriage rites, cuts are made in the thighs of the couple and their mixed blood is 
rubbed in the cuts (p. 196). 

G. Bolinder (1952) 

Bushman women in southern Angola use ground, sweet-smelling wood mixed with fat for a 
cosmetic (p. 121). 

V. Ellenberger (1953) 

(Some of Ellenberger's information was obtained from the literature and it is not always 
clear when he is using his own information, mainly about Lesotho, then Basutoland.) 

An old Basotho woman had seen Bushman rock painters at work. She said that a small 
container with red paint in it was kept; the pigments were mixed with melted fat. She was 
certain that the Bushmen did not use 'ochre' for their paintings, but did not say what they used 
(pp. 148-149). An old colonial Boer had seen Bushmen painting and described the use of bone 
splinters for 'brushes' (p. 160) (unacknowledged from Moszeik 1910). Ellenberger speculated 
on the ingredients for paints and stated that the Basotho insisted that the Bushmen also used 
animal blood for paint (pp. 164-165). He described the use of mineral powders, llhdra and ttd 
for pigments (taken from Bleek & Lloyd 1911, acknowledged) (p. 195). 

J. Mauduit (1954) 

At his page 73 is a photograph of two young Kalahari Bushman girls in 'festive dress' — 
strings of beads, and a ring-ornament suspended from the hair on to the forehead of one, and 
painted faces (Fig. 19 herein). The pigments were not given. 

P. V. Tobias (1955; 1976 and 1979 pers. comm.) 

Many of the Auen and Naron Bushmen, particularly the women, greased their hair and 
made the tufts into long ringlets (1955). In Botswana he was informed that some of the women 
wear long ringlets, prepared with a pomade of mud and dung, sometimes reddish clay and 
ochre as well (1976, 1979 pers. comm.). 

J. H. Wilhelm (1955) 

The dress of Hukwe men in south-eastern Angola consists mostly of the cotton pieces 
common among the Ovambo. Two layers cover both back and front and the cloth is rubbed 
with fat or red ochre to make it last longer (p. 21). Brass cartridge cases are used as containers 
for sweet-smelling powder. The women elongate their hair with animal hair and vegetable 
fibres, like the Ovambo women. He quoted F. Seiner (1910, Globus 97) who said that Hukwe 
women rubbed lime or fat into the hair to exterminate vermin. 

R. Story (1958) 

Gum for eating is obtained from acacias. 

The fruit of Ochna pulchra, a semi-deciduous tree, is boiled to yield a fat that can be 
skimmed from the surface and used as a food. 

L. Marshall (1959, 1961, 1962, 1969, 1976a, 19766) 

The following information, mainly about the Mkung' of north-western South West Africa, 
is repeated in various papers and is grouped here.) 

'The mother had brought a little fat (eland fat, if they had it, would be used) and a bit of 
powdered red stone, one of the red earths {I gam \gai gwoie) mixed with fat. She rubbed !Nai all 
over with fat and drew a line on her forehead and a circular design on her cheeks with the red 
powder mixed with fat' (1959: 355, 19766: 276). Photographs show this young bride with the 
design painted on her face (1959, 19766). 


In the Ceremony of the First Menstruation (often years after the wedding ceremony), the 
design on the face is the same and 'she is washed and anointed with both eland and other fat 
and the oil of the tsi (Bauhinia esculenta Burch.)'. '"It is our custom" was all the people could 
tell me' (1959: 365). 

The women use the powdered red earth for ceremonial markings on their faces 
(1961: 248). 

A husband gave his wife oil and ornaments for her hair. 

'A tortoise-shell filled with plant substances and marrow or fat is the one piece of 
equipment a medicine-man uses in curing.' One of the plant substances is the root of the 
camel-thorn tree. Anyone may rub charred bits of the medicinal plants into little incisions to 
cure an ache or pain (1969: 359). The medicine-men pound the charred plants to powder with 
mortar and pestle and mix the powder with marrow or fat — the latter are for their cohesive and 
inflammable properties. Marrow from the foreleg of a giraffe is preferred. A glowing coal is 
dropped into the mixture in the tortoise-shell to make 'smoke medicine' (1969: 360). 

All !kung women are scarified for beauty from the age of 12; a mixture of charcoal and fat 
is rubbed into the cuts (1976: 34-35). 

Marrow is cherished for eating (1961: 237). Eland fat is a very highly valued gift. An eland 
provides so much fat that people can afford to be a little luxurious. They rub it on themselves 
and on their implements, and they eat it. '^Toma' said that, when he had eland fat to give, he 
took note of certain objects he would like to have and gave their owners especially generous 
gifts of fat (1961: 243; see also 1976a: 366). Fat is mentioned frequently in Bushman stories, 
e.g. wooden basins are rubbed with 'paauw' fat (1962: 229); a deity smears a spirit with a 
mysterious kind of fat (1962: 243). 

The blood of a slaughtered animal is carried back to the camp in bags made of the 
stomach, rumen, and bladder. Soft parts, including brains and blood, are often given to the old 
people with poor teeth (1961: 237). Eland blood for eating (by old women) is mentioned in a 
story (1962: 230). 

In the Ceremony of the First Killing (of a large animal), the young hunter is scarified — 
'charred meat and fat, turned to magic by the ceremony, are rubbed into the several lines of 
vertical cuts on his face, arms, back and chest to give him the will to hunt, good sight, and 
accurate aim; also to enable him to find the animal and to protect him from being seen by the 
animal' (1959: 351). 

In the hot dry months, the people 'dig shallow pits and lie in them covered lightly with 
sand which they have moistened with their urine for coolness' (1959: 356). 

An invisible supernatural substance for medicine-men is 7/Gauwa's urine' (a lesser god), or 
the urine of a supernatural giraffe (1969: 360). 

'A widow should not remarry until one rainy season has passed.' 'The rain washes away the 
death from the widow' (1959: 357). 'When she is about to go to her new husband, she prepares 
herself by washing in the ordinary way' (1959: 358). 

Water is poured over a medicine-man in a trance to cool him down (1969: 378). 

Ostrich eggs are eaten (1961: 236), but not by men and women between the age of puberty 
till they are old enough to have had five children (1976b: 126-127). Beads are made from the 
shells and traded (1961: 242). The shells are used for water containers (1961: 243). There were 
various references to ornaments made of ostrich egg-shell. 

Honey is eaten (1961: 245; 1962: 246; 1976b: 129), also by the spirits (1962: 243), and it 
often features in stories (e.g. 1969: 367). 

Gum is used to close the lower apertures in tortoise-shell containers (1969: 359). It is eaten 
(1976b: 121). 

Fresh bone, pounded to powder, is used to clean and soften karosses (1961: 246). 

The medicine-man rubs sweat from his body over the person he is curing (1969: 371, 378). 

'The woman whose fire it is may welcome the visitor by taking a pinch of the sweet- 
smelling sa powder, which she carries in a little tortoise-shell hung from her neck, and 
sprinkling it on the visitor's head in a line from the top of the head to the forehead' (1961: 235). 
Women toss sa powder on to the medicine-men 'for their well-being and on to visitors to greet 
them, and which they use as a cosmetic to powder themselves with' (1969: 359). 'Sa powder, 
tossed or rubbed lightly on a medicine-man, enables him to see more clearly where the sickness 
is in the person he is curing and the nlum [supernatural potency] in the sa also keeps the 
medicine-man from feeling excessively tired after a night of dancing' (1969: 365). 


E. Marshall Thomas (1959, 1963) 

A young 'Gikwe' woman 'had no ornaments except a row of blue scars over her eyes', and 
'a row of striped scars along her thighs' (1959: 42). Charcoal is rubbed into the cuts (1959: 43). 

Gikwe Bushmen drink the milk taken from a dead gemsbok (1959: 47). The animal is 
slaughtered without spilling the blood which is collected in the skin which is placed hair side 
down in a pit. Intestines are cleaned and the liquid from them is saved with the blood collecting 
in the bowl of the body. The rumen is slit over the skin containing the blood, so that the liquid 
from it is saved. The contents are then squeezed over various containers to catch the moisture. 
The people drank the raw blood, scooping it out in handfuls to their faces so that they were 
stained with it (1959: 47-48). 

The skins of 'Delalandes foxes' were cured with urine, as water was scarce; the urine was 
rank, having been saved in tsama rinds for days by all the Gikwe people in the camp (1959: 91). 

'Kung' Bushmen use metal arrow points and require a binding-fluid to make the poison 
adhere to the metal. They chew the bark of a tree, spit it into a small mortar (made from the 
kneebone of an antelope) 'into which they have squeezed the milky juice of sansevieria plants, 
got by wringing the hairy, thick leaves. This juice has an irritating effect when it is dissolved in 
a wound.' Gikwe Bushmen have bone arrow points and do not have to use a binding-fluid 
(1959: 96). 

Melons and various other plants provide water for the Gikwe (1959: 104). 'Bi, a fibrous, 
watery root, the mainstay of the Gikwe Bushman's diet during the hot season when the melons 
are gone ... is scraped and squeezed dry. The people drink the juice they squeeze.' Shallow 
pits are dug in the shade: 'They urinate on the bi scrapings and line the pits with the moist pulp. 
They lie still in the pits during the hot day to preserve the moisture in their bodies' (1959: 105; 

'The Gikwe put a medicine powder, a fragrant brown powder made of a herb called sasa, 
in the nostrils of a dead person and sprinkle his body with sasa before burial.' The Kung strew a 
grave with sasa powder and whenever they pass a grave (1959: 126-127). 

A 'ground nut' called tsi, which grows on a vine, is fatty. These nuts are roasted and eaten 
(1959: 209). The Kung regard it 'as a very powerful food, one of the powerful foods in which 
there is a special essence. . . . These foods are the mainstays of a Bushman's diet and are fat; 
and every year people in their child-bearing years, when they consider themselves subject to 
harm, protect themselves against these foods by a ritual act'; this is called choa (1959: 155). In 
the ceremony for tsi an old woman chews a mouthful of tsi and a root called shasha or some 
other root, washes her hands with the paste or rubs it on the young woman's arms and chest if 
she is performing the ceremony for the other (1959: 156). 

Nuts from manghetti trees are eaten (1959: 215). 

The clothing of a Kung child-bride of 8 years was rubbed with red, sweet-smelling powder. 
The day after the marriage ceremony the bride and groom (16 years) were anointed with fat by 
their mothers (1959: 158-159). 

A 'Bushman' burns his hair or urinates in a fire to make the weather change (1959: 161). 

After giving birth, a young Bushman (!kung?) woman washed the blood from her legs with 
water from an ostrich egg-shell (1959: 164). 

A Kung man was dark as he had rubbed himself all over with medicine paste which had 
accumulated dust. When the rains came, he scrubbed himself, revealing a pale golden skin 
(1959: 173). 

A Kung woman had blue scars on her forehead and thighs. She kept her hands and face 
washed (1959: 184). A fine row of scars between the eyes and on the arms and chest are marks 
of a man who has hunted successfully. Paste made of an animal's meat (here kudu) is rubbed in 
(1959: 197). Thomas's plate lib shows a 'Kung' woman with numerous cicatrization marks on 
her thighs. 

The fragrance of certain young Kung girls was 'heavy and sweet, the perfume of the leaves 
of sa and the wood of tchambuti, which Bushman women grind to powder and rub on their 
bodies' (1959: 226). A Kung woman gave the white visitors sa, 'the finely powdered yellow- 
green leaves that smell half-way between roses and sage' (1959: 232). 

A young married Kung girl (10 years) 'wore a fine kaross which she had rubbed with red 
pow'der, often a sign to men that a girl is menstruating, as perhaps she was, that a man may be 
careful not to touch her and endanger the powers to hunt' (1959: 234). 

In the evening some Kung women went to bathe in the pan — they washed arms, legs, and 
faces, and waded in the water (1959: 256). 


Honey is gathered for eating (1959: 174, 258 ff.). 

The face of a Kung man in north-western Botswana was darker than his body as it had 
been rubbed with fat and a black paste (1963). 

Bone marrow is eaten. Cooked blood goes to the aged with poor teeth. Liquid is obtained 
from melons, scraped roots, and bulbs. Ostrich eggs are eaten (1963). 

Three photographs show young Kung women and girls with dark scarification marks on 
cheeks and foreheads (1963). 

J. Bjerre (1960) 

(He spent some time with a Bushman 'clan' in north-western South West Africa. Some of 
his information is not first-hand (unacknowledged) and the book contains many inaccuracies.) 

The Bushman women gather honey (p. 113). 

Various ways of obtaining water or substitutes are described (p. 134). 

A description is given of incisions being made in the upper arm of a young hunter into 
which burnt parts of the tendon of an antelope were rubbed for luck in hunting (p. 117, illus. 
p. 160). Another had several such scars on his arms (p. 118). 

The women have tortoise-shell containers with a powder made from fragrant pulverized 
grass seed; a powder-puff is made from a scrap of leather; they powder their necks (p. 136). 

A pregnant Bushwoman often identifies her condition by smearing herself with soot 
(p. 138); during the birth the women throw special herbs on a small fire to placate the spirits 
(p. 139). (His further description of the birth was obviously taken from Schapera (1930) as well 
as descriptions of other rites.) 

Black ash is smeared into 5-10 cm incisions in the outer thighs of young girls for cosmetic 
purposes (p. 147). 

Boy initiates who have just killed their first big game have their foreheads scarified; ashes 
from burnt scraps of meat from certain parts of the animals are rubbed into the cuts; this 
endows them with the buck's keen eyesight, vigilance, strength and stamina (p. 153, illus, 
P- 97). 

'Paul' of Upington in 1960 

Paul, a very old Bushman, was interviewed at the Upington Catholic mission in 1960. He 
was Nama-speaking and originally came from the Bethanien area in South West Africa, but 
later went to live among the Bushmen in the sand-dunes north of Upington. The Bushmen in 
those parts, he said, had used 'blinkklip' (specularite) for painting themselves. They ground red 
ochre on grinding-stones. (Personal observation 1960.) 

M. W. How (1962) 

The author mentions that in 1888 T. B. Kennan visited a cave near Qhoasing Falls 
(Lesotho); he described the paintings there and the paints that had apparently been used. 
There is some discussion about Bushman painters and their techniques (see section on theories 
and experiments in rock paintings). 

In 1930, at Moshei, 'between Qacha's Nek and Mokhotlong', a trader had iron arrow- 
heads and red pigment that had been 'taken off a dead Bushman by a Mosotho many years 

E. Marshall Thomas (1963) (see Thomas 1959, 1963) 

G. B. Silberbauer (1964, 1965, 1972) 

(This information is from a study of the G/wi of the central Kalahari.) 
Various food plants are listed, including those used for moisture. Plants containing fat 
include Bauhinia esculenta (roasted and shelled), B. macrantha (roasted green or dry and 
shelled), and Citrullus vulgaris (tsamma, eaten raw, the seeds toasted and ground) (1965: 44- 
46). Vegetable fat is obtained from tsamma seeds and from the seeds of other vine-borne 
plants. The intake of animal fat is very low, due to the small amount carried by nearlv all game 
animals (1965: 109). 

The G/wi are light coppery yellow, darkened by sunburn and dirt. A protective lotion 
against sunburn and blistering is made of the fat from roasted Ximenia seeds (1965: 109). In 
pregnancy the stomach is massaged with Ximenia fat; during childbirth other women massage 
the woman's legs with this fat; the back is massaged (1965: 111). 


When an animal is slaughtered, 'the blood and the rumen contents, and also the amniotic 
fluid found in gravid cows, are drunk and provide important sources of moisture in the absence 
of water. Blood is also roasted in the smaller sacs found in the viscera of the buck and makes a 
sort of blood-pudding' (1965: 49; see also 1964; 1972: 287). The principal source of salt and iron 
is probably the fresh blood of game animals which is drunk and baked in sacs of viscera 
(1965: 109, see also 1972: 287). 

In the puberty ceremony, the young girl-wife is secluded in a small hut for the first 
menstrual period. On the fifth day she and her husband are washed with the moist shavings of a 
bisa root (Raphionacme burkei) — 'it is always done, it cleans them' are the reasons given. The 
couple are tattooed and blood from one is rubbed into the incisions of the other — 'this is not 
only powerful symbolism but a magical process which the G/wi believe to have the effect of 
linking the couple together in harmonious relationship'. Ashes of magical and medicinal roots 
are rubbed into the cuts, leaving black cicatrices — 'these ashes strengthen the uniting influence 
of the mixed bloods and also help to ensure the couple's prosperity and happiness'. The wife 
runs in a symbolic shower of rain, said to bring good fortune and attract to her good falls of 
rain. The couple are then painted in matching patterns, according to the taste of the woman 
doing it, with a mixture of ground ochre and fat, the purpose being decorative. Chewed leaves 
are spat on the girl's head 'so that the food she eats may sit comfortably in her stomach'. 
(Further details are not relevant here (1965: 84-89).) 

In the boys' puberty ceremony they are lightly tattooed with incisions under their scapulae, 
medicines of burnt roots are rubbed in, leaving black cicatrices (1965: 88). 

A new baby is washed with bisa root scrapings. On the tenth day the baby's head is shaved 
and only then is it washed all over (1965: 111, see also p. 77). 

A man who collapses in a trance during an exorcising-dance is massaged with perspiration 
from under the arms — 'this, and head-sweat, are believed to have curative powers' (1965: 97). 

When poison is scarce, the juice of Aloe zebrina is used for a thin outer casing to the 
poison to prevent its chipping and desiccation. After working with the arrow poison, hands are 
carefully washed; 'if no water or plant juice can be spared, urine serves the purpose' (1965: 57). 

The G/wi wash their hands before eating; if water is not available, urine is used. To keep 
cool in summer, the men urinate on a patch of sand under the men's tree and lie in it, throwing 
the moist sand over themselves. This helps to conserve body moisture. Urine, if not infected, is 
a good antiseptic (1965: 105). 

In Silberbauer (1972: 281) a legend for a photograph reads: 'A hartebeest hide is pegged 
out in the sun to dry before fat and other tissue are scraped off. When this has been done the 
hide is softened and tanned by treatment with rotted brains, plant juices and urine' (1972: 281). 
'The curing process consists of repeatedly moistening the cleaned skin with a variety of fluids 
(plant juices, urine, rumen contents), wringing it out to expel the moisture and soften it, and 
then allowing it to dry, and again kneading it by hand' (1972: 293). 

Honey is a rare delicacy. Eggs of bird, including ostrich eggs, are eaten. The shells of the 
latter are used for water containers and to make into beads (1972: 184-185). 

H. Heinz (1966) 

(This information is from a study of the '!K6' in western Botswana.) 

On its return to the camp after an absence of a few months, a baby is greeted with 
handshakes by the band members, who rub fat on its little nose to introduce it to 'the smell of 
our village' (p. 64). 

In a renaming ceremony, the old name of the child is 'washed off with oily, roasted, 
pounded tsamma seeds mixed with saliva in the grandmother's mouth. Girls use this mixture for 
cleaning in the absence of water (p. 155, fig. 29). 

In the puberty rites, the girl's face is 'painted to resemble the gemsbok shield, i.e. the 
brow-skin of the gemsbok hung in the back of the hut' built for the occasion (p. 119, fig. 18c-e, 
j). When the girl has completed her second period, the decorated sticks previously used in the 
puberty rites are burnt and the charcoal is used for her tattoos (p. 123, fig. 22a-b, see also fig. 
23a-b). The simple marriage ceremony occurs only later (they do not have child-brides 
(p. 193)) when the bride may blacken her eyebrows with charcoal; she is neither painted nor 
anointed with fat (p. 206). 

A wife 'may decorate her face discreetly with black eyebrow cream. . . . She may wash and 
then smear herself with fat or oil from tsamma melon seeds' (p. 210). 


Before remarrying or returning to her parents, a widow must wait for a year 'until the next 
rain has washed all the deceased's spoors away' (p. 222). A widower also waits for a year 
(P- 223). 

In male puberty rites, the 'gemsbok brow-shield pattern is painted on their faces. This 
design is supposed to last for many months' (p. 128). Charcoal from camel-thorn wood, mixed 
with eland fat, is rubbed into their tattoo cuts. Their hands are washed with water or the 
chewed tsamma seeds (pp. 131-132). 

After a certain period an initiate may eat honey from three species of trees only, after a 
longer period he may eat honey from other trees (p. 141). At the age of about 12 to 14 children 
are prohibited from eating tree gum as it will make them 'weak in the knees' (p. 140). 

R. B. Lee (1967, 1972) 

Mongongo (or mangetti) nuts from Ricinodendron rautanenii is a primary food for the 
Bushmen of the Dobe area. The kernel of the nut was found to yield 60 per cent by weight of a 
quick-drying fixed oil, rich in proteins' (1967: 101-102); the small nuts of the 'morula tree' 
{Sclerocarya caffra) are also eaten (1967: 103, see also 1972: 340). 

The Bushmen who were studied ('IKung'), eat ten species of edible gum (1967: 106). 
Bird's eggs, including ostrich eggs, are eaten (1967: 119). 

The dried, raw hide is softened by a tanning agent from the plant Elephantohiza burkei 
[sic] (1967: 123). 

Ostrich eggs supply water containers and material for making beads (1972: 341). 

P. Buys (Windhoek 1969 pers. comm.) 

The following notes were made by Jalmar Rudner from information received at the State 
Museum in Windhoek: 'Oubaas Piet Brand from Perdepan, Leonardville, south of Gobabis, 
over 80 years of age, grew up in the Kalahari with Bushmen. He told that the very old 
Bushmen told him that they boiled buck brains till hard. They then ground 'rooiklip' at Khoup 
(Kalkrand) which they mixed with the brains to a putty-like substance which they kept in a 
tortoise-shell. When they needed some colour, they took the paste and heated it over the fire, 
when it became soft and fluid. They said they used this for painting on rocks. These Bushmen 
came from the north in Bechuanaland. When you remelt the brains like this it stays like an oil.' 

L. Marshall (1969) (see Marshall 1959 et seq.) 

H. P. Steyn (1971) 

'Besides these ornaments, Nharo women also use certain cosmetics. Foremost among these 
is the aromatic powder (tshaa) which is made from roots and carried in a small tortoise-shell 
(damba) . . . the hind leg apertures filled with a pulp obtained by pounding the roots of a 
Grewia flava tree or with beeswax'; a piece of soft skin or cloth is used as a powder-puff 
(p. 293). 

'If fat is available the women rub it on their bodies, smaller quantities are mixed with 
powdered red ochre obtainable at the shop and the mixture is rubbed on the forehead, the 
bridge of the nose and the cheekbones by means of a finger. Young girls sometimes paint their 
eyebrows with a mixture of fat and powdered charcoal. (It can also be mentioned here that 
during a girl's puberty ceremony she is decorated with a mixture of fat and powdered morama 
nuts (Bauhinia esculenta). The mixture is applied on the cheekbones and round the eves)' 
(p. 294). 

The personal possessions in one bag shared between husband and wife, included: 1 bottle 
with fat and ochre; 6 polish tins, 2 with ochre and fat mixture; 3 pieces of fungus found on trees 
and used in the tinder-box; and bits of charcoal (p. 289). 

'Normally men do not use cosmetics at all' (p. 291). 

Only women are incised for ornament. Girls are tattooed on the forehead, between the 
eyes, on the cheekbones, and on the thighs; charcoal is rubbed into the cuts (p. 294). 

Similar cuts are made for medicinal and magical purposes; a mixture of roots and fat is 
rubbed into these cuts. During initiation, vertical cuts are made on the forehead between the 
eyes of the boys, to 'open' their eyes, enabling them to see Hisheba, a mythical figure (p. 294). 

For luck in hunting, magical scars are made between the eyes and on thumbs and wrists; a 
medicinal root is roasted, powdered, and mixed with fat, and rubbed into cuts. Powdered dried 
meat from the front leg of a steenbok is mixed with fat and rubbed into such cuts (p. 307). 


A soft stone {nlloaba) is powdered between grinding-stones, mixed with fat, and the 
mixture is rubbed on the skin bags to give them a brown colour (p. 288). 

Ostriches are hunted as the fat is much sought after (p. 296). 

The bow-stave and string are regularly rubbed with fat to prevent them from drying out 
(p. 299). 

Water is normally not used for washing and is usually unavailable; both sexes 'wash' and 
oil their bodies, usually arms, neck and legs, by wetting pounded melon seeds in their mouths 
and rubbing the pulp on their bodies (p. 294). 

B. Heintze (1972) 

Guerreiro (1966) is quoted on the cultural contacts between the !kung and Kwanyama and 
exchanges by Bushmen of game meat, wax, skins, and lukula, a mixture of butter and red 
wood, for tobacco, hemp, grain, butter, alcoholic drinks, ornaments, and utensils. 

R. Lee (1972) (see Lee 1967, 1972) 

E. Palmer & N. Pitman (1972) 

The oil from the kernel of the sour plum, Ximenia caffra, is used by Bushmen to oil their 
bows and bow strings, and as a cosmetic — it softens the skin (pp. 283, 563). 'The kernels of the 
manketti nut, Ricinodendron rautanenii, of South West Africa and Botswana, yield up to 63 per 
cent of bright yellow edible oil' (p. 283). Bushman women use the leaves of Croton gratissimus 
('bergboegoe') of the Euphorbia family, as a perfume or buchu (p. 284). 

The wood of Pterocarpus angolensis (kiaat or bloodwood) is used by Bushmen and other 
people in northern South West Africa as a cosmetic and to colour clothes. The red inner bark 
of the root is sold in bundles. The sap is said to leave a permanent stain. 

G. B. Silberbauer (1972) (see Silberbauer 1964, 1965, 1972) 

B. H. Sandelowsky (1974) 

A dung floor was found during an excavation in the Namib Desert: 'Dung floors of this sort 
are a rare occurrence, known to me only from one location in Rhodesia (Cooke, pers. comm.) 
and from Botswana where I was told that Bushmen paved the floor of a rock shelter with a 
mixture of dung and mud (Borland, pers. comm.).' 

H. J. Heinz & B. Maguire (1975?) 

The area of research was some 100 km south of Ghanzi in Botswana. 

Although Bushman informants 'were fully aware of basic colours as well as many varieties 
of shades, it was impossible to obtain complete agreement or even close conformity in regard to 
the terms used to describe basic colours. It seems that no such specific names for colours exist 
in the !ko language.' Colours were named by referring to certain fruits, but confusion arose as 
various informants could be referring to fruits at different stages of ripeness; other terms 
included 'blood', 'sky', 'gall', and 'cloud'. 

The bark of Acacia luederitzii (\ola) is used for tanning skins. 

Pergularia extensa (ga lobe) is used for.a powder-puff in the tortoise-shell 'compact'. 

Arrow poison is mixed with gum from Terminalia sericea (4hee). The ai row-shaft is glued 
with gum from Acacia luederitzii. Gum from Terminalia sericea is used for bird-lime. 

Dye for colouring skins is masiri (not seen) and nil ami (Elephantorrhiza sp.). 

Fat for cosmetic purposes is obtained from the seeds (sa'aa) of Citrullus vulgaris {tarn) 
[tsama]. Fat-containing nuts are eaten, e.g. mangetti {Ricinodendron rautanenii). 

Charcoal black is obtained from various woods. 

Medicines to release girls from food taboos are from Aptosimum sp. (Hibiscus sp.) and 
Cassia italia spp. arachoides. 

Various plants are substitutes for water. 

J. Hosford in 1975 

The following observations were made in 1975 at Gautscha Pan, north-western South West 
Africa, at the request of the author. The leader of the !kung Bushmen there at the time was 
^toma, mentioned in Thomas (1959). 


The women, particularly the young girls, use animal fat on their bodies; the fat is kept in 
little boxes or tins. In this case they were using kudu fat. 

A few women had reddened their faces to below the eyes with an aromatic wood powder. 
Some of the young girls had dusted their fat-besmeared bodies and hair with this powder. One 
had a stripe of the pigment down between the shoulder-blades. The powder is used decoratively 
and is from pounded wood (uchende); usually a wooden mortar is used, but in this case it was 
the hollow metal top of a gas cylinder used with a wooden pestle, and the powder was used 
straight from the mortar, while the rest was put into a small fiat bottle. (Colour photographs 
taken by John Kramer (South African Museum) show several of the women wearing this 
bright-red pigment on their faces.) 

Animal skins are coloured with the same red powder. 

A black substance (unidentified) is used on faces — across the eyebrows — for certain 
ailments; it is also used on babies and young children. 

Aromatic powders are kept in tortoise-shell containers. 

Virtually every woman in the band had bluish (colouring matter unknown) cicatrization 
marks on foreheads and cheekbones, backs of thighs and upper arms; they were for beauty. 
The men had cicatrization marks on faces and backs (reasons not given). 

Small pieces of dry fungus (gunu), 'like the cabbagey ones on wood', are used in the 
tinder-boxes. (It was not ascertained whether a fungus was used for pigment.) 

L. Marshall (1976) (see Marshall 1959 et seq.) 

J. Tanaka (1976) 

'The '4 Kade people' obtain more than 90 per cent of their water requirements from plants 
(p. 100). For more than 300 days annually they lack standing water and are obliged to obtain 
water from plants and animals (p. 102). Blood and the moisture squeezed from the stomach 
contents of slain animals are good water sources but big game is seldom obtained. 

Y. E. Yellen & R. B. Lee (1976) 

Various edible nuts provide proteins and fats (p. 38). 'The underground species [of 
warthog] are highly desired because they are very fat, and animal fat is one of the elements 
most scarce in the San diet' (p. 39). 

A. Barnard (1979) 

Nharo medicine consists of natural substances extracted from plants or, occasionally, 
animals, usually boiled with water or sometimes by rubbing the substance into the patient's 
skin. Sometimes honey is used. Some illnesses may be washed away with the contents of a 
goat's stomach rubbed on the body of the patient. 

'In order to make it rain, such a medicine-man might grind up the raw eggs of some (or 
any?) large bird, cook the eggs in water, and wash his body with the mixture. ... To make it 
stop raining, the medicine-man might throw the same mixture and some salt into the fire.' 

'Konu is a black substance produced by charring and grinding the leaves of the species 
Grevia flava.' This is rubbed into shallow incisions in the patient's skin. It is also used for 
fertility and birth control cuts as well as hunting cuts. The healing cuts resemble the tattoos 
made for beautification. 

P. Johnson et al. (1979) 

The photographs were taken in Bushmanland. north-eastern South West Africa (!kung?). 
Eggs are eaten (figs 28, 31). Honey is relished (fig. 168). Blood is saved for eating (fig. 74). 
Various figures show women with dark tattoo scars on their foreheads and cheeks. 

Medical scars are rubbed with fat and herbs (fig. 90). 

O. Kohler (1979) 

These observations were recorded on visits between 1959 and 1974. After touching objects 
with 'dangerous power', the 'Kxoe' Bushmen (in eastern Okavango and western Caprivi. called 
'black Bushmen' by Gusinde) purify themselves with the red powder of Pterocarpus angolensis 
wood, carried in a tortoise-shell. The father of an unsuccessful hunter powders his bow and 
arrows as well as arms, forehead and temples of the hunter with this pigment which contains the 


ritual colour of life. In earlier days, strings of ostrich egg-shell beads were coloured with this 
powder or with blood. The red 'Dolfmedizin', symbolic for the power of life, which is rubbed 
on the hunter's face, makes the face light. Illness is brought by a being who is red. The 
medicine-man shakes the red powder in a bowl to determine whether the patient will live or 
die. The patient is rubbed with a mixture of fat and the powder. 

Charcoal from certain roots is rubbed into incisions on arms to strengthen the arms. 
Carbon from plants mixed with fat is rubbed into the chest to cure a cough. 

South African Museum, Ethnology Collection 

There are various Bushman objects coloured with pigments in the collections of museums 
(e.g. Wilman 1933). A few in the South African Museum are mentioned below by way of 
example. Little or nothing has been recorded regarding the pigments used to colour these 

SAM-AE1546a: 'Skin bag', one of seven. 'Bushman, Gordonia, purchased by Miss D. Bleek, 
1913.' 'Made of buck or goat skin, decorated, worn on shoulder by men and women to carry 
quivers, digging-sticks, etc. //, southern Bushman.' The bag is yellow-brown inside and 
outside from some tanning agent; three large circles had been scraped into the skin on either 
side, with a pattern of wavy lines in the circles. 

SAM-AE4020: 'Skin satchel, Bushman, South West Africa, purchased by Rev. H. Kling, 
1922.' The bag is drop-shaped, the inside is the usual light-brown skin colour; outside it had 
been coloured with 1,5 to 2 cm bands of red pigment alternating with 2 to 3 cm bands of white 
on which two or three rows of rectangular red spots had been painted with a square-tipped 
instrument. The catalogue card says 'decorated with ochre designs'. 

SAM-AE10085: 'Skin bag.' 'Bushman, Kalahari north of Upington, collected by Dr W. M. 
Borcherds, presented by his daughter 1971.' (Dr Borcherds was known to the author and his 
collections would most likely have been made in the 1920s and 1930s.) The bag is half-round, of 
soft leather with several finely-worked patches sewn on it. Colour slightly reddish-brown from 
some tanning agent, patterns (squares, circles, and a half-circle) scraped into the skin. 
SAM-AE5878: 'Woman's apron.' 'Bushman, presented by Mr Donald Bain, October 2nd 
1937.' The apron is of leather, with three rows of 'tassels' of ostrich egg-shell beads covering it, 
each tassel or string of beads beginning with a small, brown, striped seed. A dull red-brown 
colouring matter had been applied to the apron and the beads. 

SAM-AE7574: 'Necklaces and rectangular ornament of ostrich egg-shell beads.' 'Collected by 
D. Bain 1936, N. E. Kalahari.' The ornament is 5,5 x 6,5 cm. A red pigment covers the beads 
and is caked between them. The same small seeds have been incorporated into these ornaments 
as those used on the apron (above) and they seem to belong together. 

SAM-AE10790: 'Loin-cloth.' 'Bushman, Tsumkwe, Bushmanland, South West Africa, purch- 
ased for South African Museum by Bushman Commissioner, Tsumkwe, January 1976.' The 
skin had been reddened with a colouring matter applied to the right side only, and was 
decorated with circles and rectangles of small coloured trade beads sewn on to it. 



So far the study has dealt with the historical and ethnographical evidence. 
In this section evidence further back in time for the use of pigments and paints in 
southern Africa is noted. 


Although many archaeological reports mention the finding of pigments or 
evidence for the use of pigments, usually on or in Late Stone Age deposits but 
even earlier, few stress the information, and one suspects that some such finds 
have been overlooked or were not thought worth mentioning. 

It is not necessary here to list all the evidence: a cross-section will suffice. 
Some of the information has already been put forward in the section on theories 
and experiments, and the evidence from the rock paintings will be examined in 
the next section. 

Various writers in the first few decades of this century mentioned general 
finds of earth pigments in cave deposits (e.g. Moszeik 1910: 30; Lebzelter 
1930: 202; Dunn 1931: 43, 110) and of pigment-stained grinding-stones and 
'palettes' (e.g. Dunn 1931: 43, 110). 

In a survey of coastal kitchen middens from South West Africa to the 
south-eastern Cape, Rudner & Rudner found that many of the pots, attributed 
mainly to the Hottentots, had been stained on the outside with haematite while 
being manufactured (J. Rudner 1968) — according to Ten Rhyne (1686), the 
Hottentots smeared their pots all over with a red colouring matter. Rudner & 
Rudner also found that some of the upper and lower grinding-stones were still 
stained with red ochre, despite the fact that these were all surface finds in 
exposed positions along the coast. This is a clear indication of the tenacity of red 
ochre. Hottentot-type pottery that they found at open inland sites, particularly 
along the Orange River, was frequently burnished with haematite (J. Rudner in 

During their survey of rock art in southern Africa, Rudner & Rudner 
(1970) found some similarly stained grinding-stones on the floors of painted rock 
shelters, as well as numerous lumps of ochre, usually red — the latter were often 
exposed along the drip line. 

Other reports show that such finds have been made throughout southern 
Africa at rock art sites as well as at other sites. 

A bivalve sea-shell with traces of red ochre on it, mentioned by Peringuey 
in a letter (see p. 54), was found at Woltemade Station on the Cape Flats in 1913 

All three excavated layers of the Late Stone Age midden at Gordon's Bay 
(dated up to 3220 ± 55 b.p.) yielded pigments — red, yellow and white — as well 
as palettes, some covered with red pigment (Van Noten 1974). 


In the Bonteberg shelter on the Cape Peninsula, the top two layers 
produced numerous pieces of 'ochre'; a few showed flattened sides and striations 
from grinding (Maggs & Speed 1967). Various other shelters in the south- 
western Cape, such as the one at Rooi-els excavated from 1922 onwards, 
contained red ochre pieces, ochre-stained grinders and palettes, etc. (South 
African Museum archaeological catalogue). 

Fragments of a 'dark-red ochreous pigment' similar in colour to the paint- 
ings on the rock wall, were excavated in a painted cave in the Clanwilliam 
district (Goodwin & Van Riet Lowe 1929: 265). In another cave at De Hangen 
in the same district, 'ochre' was found on potsherds, other items of equipment, 
and in the paintings on the rock walls; various shades of red and yellow ochres 
were found on the surface in the vicinity (Parkington & Poggenpoel 1971a). 

Pieces of haematite and ochre-stained stones such as grinders were found in 
many shelters along the south coast and in the eastern Cape (South African 
Museum archaeological catalogue). 

In an excavation at Die Kelders on the south coast, pieces of red ochre, and 
occasionally yellow ochre, were present throughout the deposit, which covered 
some 2 000 years. Some pieces showed marks of abrasion. Powdered ochre was 
found in shell containers and as a coating on perforated shells, ostrich egg-shell 
beads and snake vertebrae, and a child burial was partly enveloped in a thin 
layer of red ochre, while the cranium was heavily ochre-stained. Most of the 
upper and lower grinding-stones as well as a number of un worked pebbles and 
cobbles were stained with red ochre. There was black staining on a third of the 
rubbers; sometimes red and black occurred on the same rubber or lower 
grinding-stone. The black was smooth and fatty (Schweitzer 1979: 181). Some of 
the pottery appeared to have been stained with red ochre (Schweitzer 
1979: 164). 

In the Oakhurst cave, yellow and claret ochre fragments came from the 
uppermost Wilton layer; a few ostrich egg-shells, sea-shells, and gravestones 
showed signs of ochre. The 'Smithfield C material included stone palettes and 
fragments of red and orange ochres (Goodwin 1938: 307, 316). There were also 
red burials (see below). 

A cave deposit at Robberg, excavated in 1917, contained pieces of ochre, 
flat stones covered with a red pigment, a piece of wood with red pigment on it, 
and a stone with black figures painted on it. Two other cave deposits contained a 
red-stained grinding-stone and a stone with black figures painted on it. West of 
Robberg, a cave yielded seventeen painted stones; in a letter Peringuey wrote 
that the black pigment came off at the slightest touch. In another cave deposit 
along this coast excavated in 1932, were 'an artificially pointed fish bone with 
signs of red paint on it', and a red-stained grinding-stone. It is not clear how 
many of these stones had been 'burial stones' (Rudner & Rudner 1973). 

The deposits of two coastal caves at Klasies River mouth, near Humans- 
dorp, yielded pieces of red ochre in all the Middle Stone Age levels (Dart 1968). 
Two painted stones were also found in one deposit (Singer & Wymer 1969). 


Much red ochre was present throughout the deposit at Matjes River rock 
shelter. A bored stone smeared with ochre was found with a burial, and there 
were paint palettes and stone pestles and mortars with traces of red ochre on 
them (Louw 1960). Besides pieces of haematite, the excavators recovered pieces 
of limonite and carbonite of iron. A piece of brittle, black gum 'may perhaps 
have been a constituent of paint' (Meiring 1953). Red ochre burials and a 
gravestone were also found (see below). 

Coastal and other sites in the Transkei and Ciskei yielded pieces of red 
ochre (Derricourt 1977: 98, 111, 161, 183, 184). 

Palettes were found with the 'Wilton industry' in the eastern Cape (Good- 
win & Van Riet Lowe 1929: 257-258). 

At Boomplaas cave, near Oudtshoorn, an excavation revealed forty-six 
storage pits lined with the papery leaves of the Boophone bulb ('gifbol') and 
grass. Some of the pits had contained the fruits of Pappea capensis, a well- 
known source of vegetable oil. Three of the stones marking the pits had been 
painted. A fourth such stone was also found. All were associated with Holocene 
deposits and Wilton stone artefacts. This shows that such painted stones are not 
always associated with burials (Deacon et al. 1976). 

The painted Melkhoutboom cave contained a palette and pieces of ochre 
among the Wilton artefacts (H. Deacon 1969). 

At Grootdrink on the Orange River in the north-western Cape, several 
finds were made during the construction of an irrigation canal, including an 
ostrich egg-shell container stained with red ochre and associated with a burial, 
and a Hottentot-type pot radiocarbon dated to about a.d. 1655. Another 
egg-shell and pot contained ground specularite and red ochre respectively (see 
below) (J. Rudner 1971a). 

Palettes were associated with the 'Smithfield industry' in the Orange Free 
State (Goodwin & Van Riet Lowe 1929: 153). 

Middle Stone Age people at Olieboompoort, Transvaal, used haematite, 
possibly for body adornment as there is no evidence that they painted on rocks; 
haematite and 'ochre pencils' and a red-stained grinding-stone were dated to 
33 000 b.p. (Mason 1962: 236, 259). At the Cave of Hearths they used yellow 
ochre (Mason 1962: 236). The Late Stone Age deposit at Olieboompoort 
yielded some specularite fragments, and at Magabeng cave the Smithfield people 
had used haematite (Mason 1962: 320, 323). 

In Bushman Rock shelter, Ohrigstad, eastern Transvaal, where there 
were a few monochrome red and black paintings, 'pigments', both unused and in 
the form of ground 'pencils', occurred in most of the Late Stone Age layers 
and down to the last Middle Stone Age layer. Several broken grinding-stones, 
some discoloured by pigment, occurred down to the second-last layer (Louw 

In the deposit of Mwulu's cave, Potgietersrus district, were found a number 
of pieces of specularite; several pieces had been rubbed to a smooth surface, 
with one in the shape of a pencil (Tobias 1949). 


In the Natal Drakensberg, pigments and pigment-stained grinding-stones 
have been found in shelters (e.g. Mason 1933; Pager 1971). 

Wilton deposits in Rhodesia yielded pigments (Goodwin & Van Riet Lowe 
1929: 255). At Bambata cave in the Matopo Hills, fragments of haematite were 
found in various layers in the deposits (Arnold & Jones 1919). Excavations in 
Pomongwe cave, in the same area, which contains rock paintings, yielded 
colouring materials, mainly red haematite, at all levels, either in lumps or as 
ground pencils. Red, yellow, and purple were present 'at every cultural stage' 
('Wilton to Sangoan'). Ostrich egg-shell beads stuck together and coated with 
red ochre occurred in the Late Stone Age level. Grinding-stones bore traces of 
pigment. It was concluded that the paintings belonged to the Late Stone Age 
Wilton culture, although haematite occurred even in the lowest level, radiocar- 
bon dated to 43 200 ± 2 300 b.p. (Cooke 1963). Throughout the deposit in the 
painted Zombepeta cave, Mashonaland (dated up to 40 720 b.p.), pieces of 
haematite (including specularite), limonite, white talc (magnesium silicate), 
crystalline iron pyrites, and conglomerates of metallic ores occurred (Cooke 

At various sites in South West Africa, Wendt (1972) found pigment-stained 
grinding-stones, pestles, rubbers, palettes, and a hammerstone, fragments of 
ostrich egg-shells with painted lines on them, pieces of sea-shell with traces of 
pigment, several lumps of resin, and ornaments of ostrich egg-shell stained with 
red as if they had been worn against a greasy, red-painted skin; lumps of various 
pigments, including red and white, were found at most of the sites, some of 
which contained paintings, others not. Seven painted slabs of stone (two being 
parts of one slab) came from one deposit in Middle Stone Age layer E, and were 
dated 'with almost certainty' to between 27 500 and 25 500 b.p. The Late Stone 
Age layers and Middle Stone Age layer F also contained pigments (Wendt 

Among the finds in the excavation of Mirabib Hill painted shelter in the 
Namib Desert, were red-stained grinding-stones and strands of hair caked 
together with clay and/or ochre (Sandelowsky 1974). 

In Maltahohe district, South West Africa, there were two instances in which 
'red powder was found in dwelling caves with rock paintings' (J. Gaerdes 1971 
pers. comm.). 


Various reports mention burials with traces of red ochre on the remains, but 
it is impossible to say whether the person had been wearing the pigment before 
death or not, although there have been indications that red ochre might have 
been sprinkled on the corpse. Painted stones, including the so-called 'burial 
stones' have been found in various excavated deposits. Although they were 
often associated with burials, the painted stones found by Wendt (1976) in South 
West Africa, and Deacon et al. (1976) in the Little Karoo, have shown that this 
is not always the case. 



At Milnerton, on the beach front near the lagoon and near scattered 
midden deposits, an adult skeleton was found with ostrich egg-shell beads 
preserved in their original design in the pelvic region; red ochre was preserved 
on and between the beads. Other disturbed ochre-stained beads suggested 
further ornamentation. A child skeleton also showed traces of red ochre 
(G. Avery, South African Museum, 1980 pers. comm.). 

At Noordwesbaai, in the Vredenburg district, the bones of a baby were 
found in a scattered midden; the sand round the skull was stained with red ochre 
(G. Avery 1980 pers. comm.). 

Near Clanwilliam a Late Stone Age burial with three ochre-stained grind- 
ing-stones was found in Klipfonteinrand cave (Parkington & Poggenpoel 1971b). 

The coastal site at Die Kelders yielded the red child burial mentioned above 
(Schweitzer 1979: 181). Various other south coast sites, notably in the Robberg 
area, yielded painted burial stones (Fig. 21) (see Rudner 19716; Rudner & 
Rudner 1973 for summary and references). At Oakhurst there were various 
burials with ochre-stained skulls and bones, stones with red paint on them, 
palettes, and fragments of red ochre in the graves. One grave contained a small 
mountain tortoise-shell with blue pigment in it, and another some Donax shells 
filled with red ochre. A child skeleton had also been covered with red ochre 
(Goodwin 1938). 


Fig. 21. The Coldstream Cave burial stone (SAM-AA6008) with paintings of people with 
painted bodies and faces (from drawing in Rudner & Rudner 1970). 


At the Matjes River rock shelter, 'Smithfield folk' had poured 'powdered 
ochre' in quantity over burials, and graves in the lower levels revealed lumps of 
ochre or powdered ochre on or near the skulls (Dreyer 1934). Layer C contained 
a painted 'gravestone' and an ochre-stained bored stone was found with a burial 
(Louw 1960). 

Human bones stained with red ochre were found in a cave at Zitzikama 
(FitzSimons 1923). 

A 'Khoisanoid' burial from Cape St Francis, dated to 5 180 ± 65 b.p., 
included pieces of haematite and quartz (De Villiers 1974). 

Burial stones were found at sites in the Albany district (J. Rudner 19716). 
In the painted Wilton cave in the eastern Cape, the remains of burials showed 
that the corpses had been covered with flat stones painted red on their under- 
surfaces (Goodwin & Van Riet Lowe 1929: 251; J. Deacon 1972). 

Along the Orange River, Dreyer & Meiring (1937) found that in 'old 
Hottentot' graves the skulls were thickly covered with powdered specularite and 
in one were lumps of what appeared to be 'haematic manganite mixed with fat and 
containing crinkly hair'. In a 'late' grave of a Hottentot chief, said to be about 75 
years old, the skull was thickly covered with powdered specular iron ore. 

A burial at Driekopseiland engraving site included an ochre-encrusted 
lower grinding-stone, a few small pieces of red ochre, and half an ostrich 
egg-shell coated inside with specularite and outside with red ochre; part of the 
grave and bones were stained with fed ochre (Mason 1954). 

A burial on the Riet River included human hair thickly matted with 
powdered specularite and ostrich egg-shell beads coated with specularite. A 
lump of red ochre was found and there were traces of red ochre on the bones. In 
the vicinity a fragment of specularite was found — this mineral is unknown in this 
area and must have been brought there, according to Humphreys & Maggs 
(1970). Another burial near the Riet River at Weltevreden contained a skull 
with a faint red smear, and one at Pniel contained an ochre-stained upper 
grinding-stone (Humphreys 1970). One of the many Koffiefontein (Orange Free 
State) burials included an ochre-stained grinding-stone, and ochre was apparent 
and relatively widespread in these graves (Humphreys 1970). 

Old 'Hottentot' graves in southern South West Africa were found to contain 
red ochre burials (A. Albat, Berseba, 1972 pers. comm.). 


Caches of powdered iron ore, most of them described as specularite, have 
been found in various parts of southern Africa, indicating that this must have 
been a fairly widespread precious commodity. In this study it was found that 
specularite was known to have been used mainly by some Tswana groups, and 
also by some of the Hottentot and Bushmen groups along the Orange River and 
elsewhere in the north-western Cape, an area known for its specularite ('blink- 
klip') mines or diggings since historical times (see below). At least some of the 
ore was obtained by barter (e.g. Burchell 1822-4 2: 182; Campbell 1822 2: 194). 


Information about a number of such caches has been traced (Fig. 22), and 
there must be others. 

A small Hottentot-type pot filled with specularite was found at Fraserburg 
and presented to the South African Museum by J. X. Merriman in 1875 
(SAM-AA5344). Peringuey (1911: 124, pi. 24 (fig. 176)), and later Schofield 
(1948) described a necked ovoid pot 'from the Zuurberg' that was found 
partially filled with specular iron, but it was the Fraserburg pot, mentioned 
above, with its distinctive decoration. Another necked.conical pot, also contain- 
ing specular iron, was found at Port Nolloth (Peringuey 1911, pi. 24 (fig. 180)) 
(see also Peringuey letter to Van Zyl 1919 in section on theories and experi- 
ments p. 56). 

A spouted 'Hottentot-Bush' pot filled with specularite was found buried 
near Vanryhnsdorp and was presented to the South African Museum in about 
1922 (SAM-AE4028). 

Rudner & Rudner were told in 1960 that at Rouxville, a Late Stone Age 
site along the Orange River near Upington (see Rudner & Rudner 1959b), the 
lower part of the pot with a pointed base containing red ochre had been found. 
At Grootdrink, in the same area, an undecorated ostrich egg-shell filled with 
specularite (SAM-AA6031) had been dug up during construction work 
(J. Rudner 1971a), and one of the Hottentot-type pots (SAM-AA6026) found at 
the same site had contained red ochre — it was radiocarbon dated to about a.d. 
1655 (J. Rudner 1971a). The egg-shell and pot were associated with a burial. 

An ostrich egg-shell filled with powdered 'manganese' or 'specularite' from 
Niekerkshoop, was taken to the National Museum in Bloemfontein (E. Baard, 
National Museum, 1973 pers. comm.). 

Humphreys (1974) recorded caches of powdered specularite in ostrich 
egg-shells along the Orange, Vaal, and Riet rivers on the farms Tipper ary, 
Olierivier, Moirdal, and Kafferfontein. He included the ostrich egg-shell coated 
with specularite inside that Mason (1954) found in a burial at Driekopseiland. 

A number of caches were found in South West Africa. Sydow (1967) noted 
that eight pots filled with 'iron ore, in all cases sedimentary magnetite', had been 
found buried but without associated cultural material. He gave the localities of 
five; Fish River plain near Mariental; Windhoek; Okamongongua, Okahandja 
district; Omandumba West, Erongo Mountains; and Karios, Warmbad district. 
Recently Sydow (1980) reported the discovery of another pot on the farm 
Varkbosch in the Maltahohe district, which contained 20 kg of dark-grey pow- 
dered magnetite. He noted that there is no record of the traditional use of this 
ore in South West Africa and suggested that the caches of minerals found in that 
territory might have been obtained by barter from the Tswana trading as far 
afield as South West Africa. 

According to J. Rudner (1968, and in preparation), the pots can all be 
classified as 'Hottentot', but this does not mean that they might not have been 
used by others such as the Bushmen. Sydow's suggestion that the contents of the 
caches might have been derived from trade with Tswana people cannot be ruled 



Fig. 22. Map showing where caches of pigments have been 

found in South Africa and South West Africa. 
Powdered ore in pots (1-14) 

1. Omandumba West (Sydow 1967); 2. Okamongongua, Oka- 
handja (Sydow 1967); 3. Windhoek (Sydow 1967); 4. Nakais, 
Rehoboth (Sandelowsky 1971); 5. Somaubes, Rehoboth (San- 
delowsky 1971); 6. Noab, Naukluft (Rudner herein); 7. Vark- 
bosch, Maltahohe (Sydow 1980); 8. Mariental (Sydow 1967); 9. 
Bethanie (Jacobson 1977); 10. Bethanie (Jacobson 1977); 11. 
Karios, Warmbad (Sydow 1967); 12. Port Nolloth (Peringuey 
1911); 13. Vanrhynsdorp (S AM-AE4028) ; 14. Fraserburg 
(SAM-AA5344) (Peringuey 1911); —Three in South West 
Africa, localities not given (Sydow 1967) 
Powdered ore in ostrich egg-shells (15-22) 
15. Auchas (Jacobson & Wendt 1979 pers. comm.) (found in 
'shells'); 16. Grootdrink (Rudner 1971a); 17. Niekerkshoop 
(Nasionale Museum 1973 pers. comm.); 18. Kafferfontein 
(Humphreys 1974); 19. Olierivier (Humphreys 1974); 20. 
Driekopseiland (Mason 1954); 21. Moirdal (Humphreys 1974); 

22. Tipperary (Humphreys 1974) 
Red ochre in pots (23-24) 
23. Rouxville (Rudner herein); 24. Grootdrink (Rudner 1971a). 



17 1 1 




out as a possibility, but a whole series of iron ore deposits are known in South 
West Africa (Geological Survey, Windhoek, 1979 pers. comm.) from which the 
mineral pigments could have come. Analysis of the contents of these caches and 
a comparison with iron ore deposits may provide an answer. 

In 1957 Rudner & Rudner (J. Rudner in preparation) found the lower half 
of a Hottentot type filled with powdered iron ore along a river-bank at Noab, in 
the Naukluft Mountains. 

' A cache of three Hottentot type pots, two containing a quantity of specula- 
rite, was excavated in the Bethanie district (Jacobson 1977). 

At Auchas, on the Orange River, a burial was found associated with 'two 
(sea?) shells' containing specularite — the latter are in the Geological Depart- 
ment of the Consolidated Diamond Mines at Oranjemund, the skull is in the 
State Museum at Windhoek (L. Jacobson & E. Wendt 1979 pers. comm.). 

A clay pot filled with magnetite was found at Nakais, Rehoboth district, 
and another at Somaubes in the same district; Sandelowsky (1971) was told 
that the Herero used this powdered mineral but that the Nama used red ochre, 
and suggested that the ore might have been smelted and reduced to metal. This 
suggestion does not seem feasible — the quantities are too small and there is 
virtually no evidence that the Khoisan peoples smelted iron ore. Laidler 
(1935: 566) noted that Peringuey had found a smelting-site with 'iron ore' and 
a stone hammer on the Cape Flats, but there is no evidence regarding the 
identity of the smith. There is information in the literature that the historical 
Hottentots worked old iron obtained by barter (e.g. Dapper 1668: 57), but 
there is only slight evidence of their having smelted iron, if Kolb (1731: 237- 
238) can be believed: he said he had seen them smelting iron ore to use for 
weapons and that they also smelted copper. Meerhof (1661 in Moodie 
1838: 233) noted that the 'Namaqua' (south of the Orange River) had copper 
and iron beads, and that they worked copper and iron. Meerhof himself gave 
them copper as gifts. Van der Stel (1685-6) recorded copper mining in Nama- 
qualand. However, records of actual smelting have not been traced, beyond 
the information of Kolb. Wikar (1779: 77-79) stated that the Zambdama 
(Bergdama) smiths beat out copper and iron beads for the 'Namaqua' north of 
the Orange River, but he did not actually mention smelting. Vedder (1938: 28, 
109) noted that the Bergdama were the first smiths among the Herero and 
Nama; they traded the iron from the Ovambo from whom they had acquired 
their skill as blacksmiths, and they 'understood the art of melting and working 
iron'. However, he did not give proof of the statement that they actually 
smelted the ore. 

Sparrman (1785: 196, ed. Forbes) noted that some Bushmen were using 
iron arrow-heads in 1775, instead of the traditional bone points. The Bushmen 
only reworked old iron, they did not smelt ore. In 1974 in Ovamboland, the 
author saw a Bushman smith who was permanently settled in his own Ovambo- 
style kraal and who traded his Ovambo-style metal products for Ovambo goods: 
he used only old iron found at construction sites, etc. 


Copper beads have been found in excavated deposits in South West Africa, 
e.g. J. Rudner and R. MacCalman found such beads with Wilton artefacts in 
Numas Entrance Cave in the Brandberg (J. Rudner pers. comm.), but they 
might well have been traded or made from metal obtained from other people. 


There is considerable evidence for the 'mining' or digging for pigments, 
particularly haematite, in southern Africa in historic as well as prehistoric times. 
Some diggings are still in use by Khoisan as well as by black people for cosmetic 
and other colouring purposes, as has been shown in this study, but many 
diggings would have been so slight as to have gone unnoticed. Much of the ore 
from these diggings was used by the black peoples for smelting. 

Apart from the diggings, there are the nodules containing mineral powders, 
the 'Bushmen paint pots' mentioned by Peringuey, Moszeik and others, and the 
ochreous powders found in pockets in the rock that were all sources of pigments. 

Ten Rhyne's (1686: 113) reference to 'a mountain that produces colours' is 
the earliest known historical record of pigment diggings; its locality, and that of 
Valentyn's (1726 2: 109) 'workings of red and white chalk, various sorts of 
mixed earths' are unknown — both were apparently in the south-western Cape 
and might have been the same site. 

Barrow (1806) found that 'ochres' were common everywhere, including the 
haematite nodules 'of the hardness and consistency of baked earthenware'; near 
the False River, a tributary of the Gouritz, a mine was being quarried. 

Steedman (1835) wrote of a red clay 'found in the vicinity of the Fish River 
and it is surprising how distant a journey these people will undertake to procure 

According to Derricourt (1977: 17), 'Grahamstown was historically 
favoured for obtaining ochre for the Ciskei — pits are normally dug to obtain 
ochre'. Beaumont (1973) noted several such diggings in the eastern Cape. 

The pyrolusite mined at Sekameng in Lesotho is highly prized and is sold 
over a wide area (Walton 1954). 

Arbousset & Daumas (1846: 50-51, 248) wrote of platinum mining in what 
is now Lesotho, and of 'copper ore' that the Bushwomen near Bethulie (Orange 
Free State) extracted from the Bosjesspruit and 'burn in the fire' for a hair 
powder; the same ore was collected by villagers from a ravine at Thaba Patsoa 
on the Caledon River; asbestos was also found here and used by the Bushmen in 
their hair. 

Other old diggings are known in the Orange Free State and in the Transvaal 
(Beaumont 1973). 

Already in 1779 Wikar wrote that the 'Namnykoa' obtained from the 
'Bliquas' a stone that they powdered, mixed with fat and smeared into their 
hair. Harris (1852: 43) mentioned specularite or 'sibilo' mines of the Tswana 
'which are visited from all parts of the country'. Dunn (1872: 380) described a 
'famous locality' near Naugat in the Prieska district, where a large hole had 


been dug for haematite — the tools left in situ were 'half an old axe-head with a 
piece of stick thrust through for a handle, the edge of another broken axe, and 
an old koodoo horn'. Elsewhere he (Dunn 1931: 111) wrote that 'Nauta' was 
the principal source of haematite in Bushmanland. He mentioned that 'in the 
Stormberg red haematite occurred in a bed of conglomerate just above the 
chief coal seam'. In the nineteenth century, one of Bleek & Lloyd's (1911: 379) 
Bushman informants told them of llhdra (specularite) and ttd (haematite) 
diggings near Prieska. 

The best known haematite workings are at Blinkklipkop, near Postmasburg, 
visited by Borcherds (1861: 73) in 1801 and described as 'a cave abounding in 
red earth mixed with mica'; Lichtenstein (1811) saw the diggings in 1805 and 
called them the caves of 'Sigihlong'; Campbell (1822) explored the 'Blink (or 
Shining) Hill' cave with a lighted candle in 1814; and Burchell (1822-4 2: 182) 
used the 'sibilo' from 'Sensavan' or 'Blink-klip' (his terms) with gum water or oil 
for painting some of his pictures; it was 'a shining, powdery iron-ore of a 
steel-grey or bluish lustre, and soft and greasy to the hands or clothes and 
staining them of a dark-red or ferrugineous colour'. He mentioned other 
workings in the vicinity and the extensive trade with the pigment. 

Thompson (1827) noted that when the 'Matclhapees', a Tswana tribe, were 
threatened with attack, they fled with their most valuable possessions, including 
'red paint stone, powder of the blink-klip' packed on their oxen. 

The ore in these areas was extracted by the Tswana and traded to the Kora 
and others, as early travellers testified. This trade came to an end only in 1910, 
Boshier & Beaumont (1972) were told. (See Boshier & Beaumont (1972), 
Beaumont (1973) Beaumont & Thackeray (1981) for further details about this 
mine and others in the area.) 

There are ancient haematite workings in Zimbabwe (Schofield 19326; 
Summers 1969), and Dart (1934) recorded the discovery of a Stone Age 
manganese mine at Chowa, in what is now Zambia — he has written various 
papers on other ancient pigment workings. 

Boshier & Beaumont (1972; Beaumont 1973 et seq.) devoted considerable 
attention to pigment 'mining' in southern Africa; they traced and relocated 
various recorded workings, found others, and investigated and excavated several 
such sites, notably two caverns at Bomvu Ridge, Ngwena, in Swaziland. The 
radiocarbon dates for Castle Cavern indicated that specularite digging had begun 
some time before a.d. 400, and the oldest of several such dates for these 
activities in Lion Cavern was more than 41000 B.C. The workings were still used 
within living memory, and modern mining operations are taking place there. 
Excavations in the rubble at Castle Cavern produced stone mining-tools, pot- 
sherds, and rusted iron fragments ascribable to the Iron Age, according to the 
authors. The deposit at Castle Quarry 2 yielded stone mining-tools, grindstones, 
and Late Stone Age artefacts, and was dated to about 2 000 years. At Lion 
Cavern (Beaumont 1973) the upper level of the soil and rubble deposit con- 
tained 'sporadic Iron Age and Later Stone Age debris', while the basal 76 cm 


yielded 'tens of thousands' of in situ stone artefacts, including mining-tools 
belonging to the 'full Middle Stone Age'. 

An excavation at Border Cave in northern Natal, a rich pigment mine with 
bone and stone artefacts, produced, from charcoal overlying a child burial, a 
radiocarbon date exceeding the limits of radiocarbon dating (60000 B.C.) 
(Boshier & Beaumont 1972). 

Among the workings^ in the north-western Cape that were investigated 
(Beaumont 1973), was one of the two at Doornfontein, near Postmasburg, 
where specularite had been dug and which yielded 'Later Stone Age type' stone 
artefacts, 'Hottentot' pottery, bone arrow points, hundreds of ostrich egg-shell 
beads, and 'large Khoisan' human bones; carbon samples from middle and basal 
levels both gave a date of a.d. 830. 

Beaumont (1973) suggested that the intensive exploitation of various col- 
oured and glittering minerals was already in progress at about 120000 B.C. 


Archaeological finds confirm that earth pigments, mainly haematite, were 
used throughout southern Africa during prehistoric times. The presence of such 
pigments on or in deposits in painted shelters couple their use to the paintings. 
Their presence in other Late Stone Age and Middle Stone Age deposits and 
finds such as red ochre-stained grinding-stones, potsherds, and ornaments (e.g. 
ostrich egg-shell beads) suggest other uses too. The ornaments might have been 
stained by design, but also by having been worn against ochre-smeared bodies; 
the use of pigments for cosmetic purposes is indicated by traces of haematite in 
burials, and ritual uses are shown by the apparent additional use of pigments on 
corpses and the presence of containers with pigments in them in burials, as well 
as the presence of red-stained and other painted burial stones. However, some 
of the painted stones that have been excavated were not associated with burials. 
These burials have been identified as 'Khoisan', while some of the Late Stone 
Age and historical burials have been identified as 'Hottentot'. 

The author's fieldwork among the Nama in South West Africa revealed a 
superstition that were a person to die while wearing red ochre paint, boro, it 
would not be possible to remove the pigment, therefore a person who is ill does 
not wear the paint (see herein). But old Hottentot burials found in South West 
Africa showed the presence of red ochre which might or might not have been 
applied after death (see herein). 

The suggestion that caches of ore found in pots in South West Africa might 
have been for smelting and reducing the ore to metal must be disputed. The 
quantities are too small for this and there have not yet been any finds to prove 
that there were Khoisan iron-smelting works. There is very slight information 
only that the historical Hottentots smelted iron: they and the Bushmen were 
known to have reworked old iron. 

The distribution of the caches found accords with the distribution of 
Khoisan peoples, except for the south-western Cape and southern Cape coastal 


areas, where caches have not been found and which were probably too far from 
the sources of supply as far as the mineral ores such as specularite are 
concerned, but red ochre burials do occur in these regions. The containers in 
which these pigments were kept were ostrich egg-shells, known to have been 
used by Bushmen and Hottentots, and Hottentot-type pots, perhaps used by 
Bushmen as well as Hottentots. 

Even though the Nama of today apparently do not use specularite (or other 
ores), there is ethnographical evidence that it was used as a cosmetic pigment by 
some Hottentot tribes in historical times, as well as a little evidence of its use by 
Bushmen, in areas around or close to the sources, mainly along the Orange 
River and in Griqualand West (see below), where archaeological evidence also 
exists for its use by Khoisan peoples. 

As the caches included red ochre as well as specularite and other ores 
(perhaps not always correctly identified), they suggest, rather, a precious com- 
modity used as a pigment, particularly in the light of other evidence. 

Haematite is known to have been used and traded by some Tswana people 
in historical times, and it was probably so further back in time. Pigment mining 
in southern Africa dates back at least to the Middle Stone Age. With the advent 
of the Iron Age, the ore was also mined for smelting. Most of these mines in 
southern Africa occur in the northern and north-western Cape and Transvaal, 
with some in northern Natal and Swaziland. Iron deposits also occur in South 
West Africa, which might have been the sources of the caches in that region, not 
necessarily, as has been suggested, through trade with Tswana people, 

The presence of oil-containing fruits in storage pits in the Boomplaas cave, 
Oudtshoorn district, indicates that the occupants of the time might not have had 
sufficient animal fats for their needs. From this study it appears that the 
stock-owning Hottentots who had ready access to animal fats did not make use 
of vegetable fats, which require more labour to obtain and extract, but that the 
hunter-gatherer 'Bushmen' (perhaps including stockless Hottentots) augmented 
animal fats with vegetable oils and still do so today. 



The relevant data in previous sections in this study are related here to the 
rock paintings. 

The rock paintings themselves can provide an indication of the pigments 
that were used by the artists and, to a lesser extent perhaps, the media and 
techniques of applying the paint. They also provide information about other uses 
for the paints, such as body painting. The problem of weathering, which 
influences the paintings and their colours, must also be taken into account. 


Visual examination of the paintings can give some indication of the pig- 
ments that were used, provided it is known exactly which colours the various 
possible pigments will produce and a detailed colour chart is used. It was 36 
years ago that Van Riet Lowe (1945) pleaded for greater accuracy in determin- 
ing the colours in rock paintings: he published a chart drawn up by Breuil to 
show how one colour, e.g. sepia brown, will range over numerous colours in two 
different colour dictionaries. Add to that the various shades of red, orange, and 
yellow, he wrote, and 'one is lost in an ochreous haze'. And still a standard 
colour chart for use by rock art workers does not exist. Virtually all have erred, 
and still err, by not defining the colours more accurately. Pager (1971: 234) used 
the Munsell soil colour chart to define his designation of ten colours for the 
Ndedema Gorge paintings, and he pointed out the difficulty of matching colours 
accurately under various conditions of light, etc. Battiss (1948) broadly used the 
artist's terms for colours and pigments and apparently often guessed which 
pigments might have been used in the rock paintings. 

There is need for further work in this neglected field of rock art research to 
determine not only the colours and frequency with which they occur in given 
areas (and there may be style, subject, regional, and time differences related to 
the choice of colours), but also the shades, whether there were obviously mixed 
colours, e.g. pink, whether the colours were transparent or opaque; the latter 
qualities might have been influenced by the type of media used or the thickness 
of the paint. This information should then be matched against the known range 
of colours and shades produced by various pigments. Experiments are necessary 
to show to what extent media might have influenced the colour of the pigments, 
by using the likely media suggested herein. 

Such analysis can refer to the present situation qnly — it is not always 
obvious when some colours have weathered away, nor can one determine the 
extent to which weathering might have changed the shades and even the colours. 

In a previous section it was shown that some chemical tests have been 
undertaken to determine the pigments or media used by the rock artists, but 
there must be sufficient paint available to provide a sample. Experiments have 
also been conducted with ultra-violet photography. 


At this stage it is possible to refer only in general terms to the basic colours 
in rock paintings and to conclude that, because of their traditional use and 
availability, certain pigments would have been used. Conclusions drawn from 
the author's fieldwork and study of rock art in southern Africa with Jalmar 
Rudner are summarized below, together with further relevant evidence of 


Many kinds of red and brown with many shades occur in the rock art. These 
have been variously described as maroon, vermilion, brick, dark, light, pink, 
reddish brown, brownish red, chocolate, etc. 

The reds seem everywhere to have been the most durable colours and, 
where the paints have weathered, the reds have usually been the main ones to 
have stood the test of time. 

According to some tests mentioned previously, iron oxides were used for 
reds and browns, while a pink in the Drakensberg was composed of 'burnt ochre 
and quartz', but relatively few laboratory tests have been conducted. Because of 
the appearance of many of the reds and browns in the paintings, workers have 
frequently suggested that iron oxides were used for these colours. There is some 
historical as well as archaeological confirmation of their use in rock art, and 
there is no doubt that these earth pigments must have been used because of the 
general durability of the reds in the paintings — ferric oxides are fast colours. 
Powdered red oxides adhere readily to a surface, even without binders, as 
anyone who had handled them will testify. Moreover, they are readily available 
and the red colour would have been desirable to the painters here, as it was 
throughout the world. 

It has been shown that the Khoisan peoples made extensive use of ferric 
oxides, particularly the reds, for painting themselves and sometimes their 
material possessions. Numerous references to such use by apparently all the 
groups of the historical Hottentots date from the early years of the Dutch 
settlement at the Cape up to the present day, but references to the metallic 
forms, such as specularite, are rare, and their use seems to have been confined 
to the north-western Cape and Orange River regions. The author has recorded 
that earthy ferric oxides, mainly red ochre, are still used by the Nama, both 
cosmetically and to colour objects, but specularite seems to be unknown to them 
(Tables 15, 25). 

References to the use of ferric oxides by the Bushmen are fewer, perhaps 
because of fewer contacts with them by early travellers, and it is difficult to 
judge how widely these pigments were used by comparison with the Hottentots 
(Table 40). 

Further evidence for the use of specularite was found in Khoisan burials in 
the north-western Cape, and red ochre also occurred in Khoisan burials. The 
various caches of pigment — red ochre and metallic powders — that have been 
found, were most probably all of Khoisan peoples. 


There is, therefore, good reason to believe that the Khoisan rock artists 
would have extended the use of these traditional pigments to include rock 
painting. There is also a limited amount of historical evidence that they used 
haematite pigments for the paintings. 

Red was also obtained from plant pigments: early travellers recorded such 
use by the Hottentots and the Bushmen, the author found that the Nama still 
use red plant pigments, and some Bushman groups still use them (Tables 17, 27, 
42). These pigments seem to have been used not only for their colour but 
sometimes also for the scent, i.e. as buchu. The possibility that they might also 
have been used by the rock artists is not ruled out, although the durability of the 
colours is unknown, particularly when mixed with binders. Most plant pigments 
fade. Only analysis of the paints in the paintings themselves will confirm their 
presence or not. 

Blood has been suggested as a pigment for the paint used in rock art, and 
there is some hearsay evidence of its use in Lesotho as a binder; traces of its 
presence in many rock paintings in various areas from the Drakensberg to South 
West Africa are claimed to have been found. However, the writer has ascer- 
tained experimentally that blood, when used on its own as a paint, does not 
remain red but fades away completely in less than 4 years under conditions 
where it is protected from direct sunlight and rain. The addition of other 
substances may retard this process. The suggestion that blood as a medium may 
increase the durability of the paint' (more than other binders?) should be tested 
under controlled conditions. It is questioned here whether the presence of blood 
in the rock paints is, indeed, as universal as is claimed; alternatively, other 
albumin-containing substances might perhaps have been used. 

Some slight ritual use by the historical Hottentots of blood as a body paint 
has been recorded, and the author found it still to be known among the Nama 
people. A few such uses by the Bushmen have been recorded, but there is no 
evidence that it was generally traditional. There is not sufficient ethnographical 
evidence to suggest that blood had been generally used by the Khoisan as a 


The rock paintings include a variety of yellows of many shades, ranging 
from brownish to light yellow and including some with a greenish or khaki tinge. 
It is not known to what extent the choice of media or weathering would have 
influenced the colours. 

Earth pigments, mainly limonite (hydrous iron oxide), have been suggested 
for yellow, and some tests also revealed the presence of limonite. The Khoisan 
peoples were known to have used yellow pigments for purposes other than rock 
paintings; these included limonite as well as plant pigments (Tables 15, 17, 27, 
40, 42). There are some references to the use of yellow aromatic plant pigments 
by the historical Hottentots, and the author recorded several such among the 
Nama, but there are only a few references to their use by the Bushmen. Here, 


again, only chemical tests will determine whether plant pigments had been used 
for the rock paintings. It is doubtful whether the colours would have lasted. 


Orange sometimes occurs in the rock paintings, although not in all areas. 
Orange paint might have been made by mixing a red and a yellow pigment, 
although it is also found in natural form in nodules. Mention of this colour for 
use by Khoisan peoples for purposes other than for rock paintings has not been 


White was frequently used in the paintings, sometimes without the presence 
of other colours, but more often for decorative or additional features such as in 
the various figures of people or animals, when the white might have been 
painted on another colour, e.g. white beadwork or body paint on a red figure 
(Fig. 23). 

Various kinds of white pigments appear to have been employed by the 
artists, ranging from a 'pure' white to 'dirty' yellowish or greyish white. It may 
be that the colour was influenced by the medium, if any, but it is not possible by 
visual inspection to determine the pigments that were used. 

Some white pigments seem to have been as durable as the reds — perhaps 
due to the medium — but others were often among the first to have disappeared 
through weathering or other factors, possibly due to the media employed as well 
as the pigments. As mentioned in a previous section, some white mineral 
pigments are insoluble or only slightly soluble in water (but other media might 
have been used), while others are fairly coarse-grained and will therefore not 
form a very durable paint. There are various carbonates, sulphates, and silicates 
and silica that could have been used. 

Numerous 'crude late' paintings, some possibly made by black people, were 
executed in white (e.g. Rudner & Rudner 1970: 49, fig. 37, pis 28, 31, 46). 

Various pigments for white paint have been suggested, from 'bird drop- 
pings' to earth pigments and plant latex (Table 3). Some of the plant latexes dry 
colourless and it had yet to be proved that any remain white for a long time. 
Some few tests revealed the presence of 'china clay' and gypsum, and zinc oxide. 

It has already been noted herein that white clay is used by many black 
peoples in southern Africa, mainly for personal adornment and often in rituals, 
but there are relatively few references to the use of white pigments by Khoisan 
peoples for purposes other than rock painting. The Bushmen were said some- 
times to have used white (unidentified) for body decoration, and the Nama and 
Kora used white quartz on their bodies on certain occasions, as noted herein. 


Black occurs generally in rock art, but it is usually used for features such as 
horns, hooves and outlines (e.g. Rudner & Rudner 1970, pis 8, 44-45) rather 



Fig. 23. Rock painting of figure in red with the body deco- 
rated with white paint, some of which may depict beadwork 
(Ha Khotso, Lesotho). 

than for full figures, although these do occur. In the eastern Cape some of the 
latest paintings are small black ones. 

In many instances the black is fugitive, in other cases it has lasted along with 
the red iron oxides, and sometimes longer than any of the other colours on the 
same rock (see p. 253). 

There are rock paintings, usually of the 'crude late' type, that appear to 
have been made with a crayon of charcoal. 

The various suggestions for black pigment in rock paintings (Table 3) were 
nearly always charcoal, but manganese and graphite were also mentioned. Tests 
revealed the presence of charcoal. 


The Khoisan people, particularly the historical Hottentots, made use of 
charcoal or soot for a black body paint (Table 16), but it was found to be rarely 
used by the Nama of today. Some historical Hottentots and some Bushmen 
groups in certain areas also used specularite which is metallic black that may 
have a reddish tinge. 


This colour is almost non-existent in the rock paintings. A painting at 
Clarke Siding in the eastern Cape that appeared to be green was found to be a 
transparent yellow over black (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 167, pi. 50). Other 
green paintings have not been found by the author. A khaki-yellow paint has 
already been mentioned under the yellow paints. Schoonraad (1960) found a few 
rare green paintings close to copper mines with malachite surface outcrops. 

No information regarding the use of green paints by the Khoisan peoples 
was found. 


The author has not seen any rock paintings in blue, but a few have been 
recorded. Grey or greyish-white paintings have been recorded. 

The Khoisan peoples used some miscellaneous pigments, including the 
dark-brown hyraxeum used by the historical Hottentots (Table 7) and the 
present-day Nama (Table 28), and said to have been used by Bushman rock 
artists (Table 3). Only chemical tests, if possible, will determine the presence in 
the paintings. 


Not enough work has been done to make a proper assessment of the 
regional variations in the use of colours, but there are indications that there 
were colour preferences, no doubt also influenced by the availability of certain 

The summary given here refers to present conditions of the paintings and 
the fieldwork that has been undertaken — there is often no way of knowing 
where colours have disappeared, although in many cases slight traces remain and 
in others it is apparent that features are missing in the paintings. 

The paintings in the Drakensberg areas contain the most polychrome and 
shaded paintings in southern Africa. Vinnicombe's (1976: 362) analysis of Natal 
paintings showed that monochromes still far exceed bichromes and polychromes; 
the predominant colour is red (see also Rudner & Rudner 1970: 268, schedule 2; 
Pager 1971: 328), with black and white equally much in evidence, and with 
yellow used very little, even less than orange. But Pager (1971: 328) found at 
Ndedema Gorge in Natal that orange had been used less than yellow. 

Other Drakensberg paintings such as in Lesotho include numerous 
polychromes as well as bichromes, and here, too, red was used the most, or 
survived the best. Smits (1971) noted that there were many small, black 


monochromes and that 'most colours normally used in rock paintings are 

In the Orange Free State, Rudner & Rudner have found that reds pre- 
dominate, and there are polychromes and shaded paintings in the Drakensberg 

In a survey of thirty shelters in the eastern Cape, Rudner & Rudner 
(1970: 268) found red paintings only in ten of the shelters, other monochromes 
and bichromes in twenty shelters, and polychromes in twelve. There were some 
shaded paintings. 

The khaki-yellow colour from Leeukraal in the Aliwal North district (Rud- 
ner & Rudner 1970, pi. 52) is unusual and the author has not seen this colour in 
the south-western Cape or in South West Africa. 

In the southern Cape, Rudner & Rudner (1970: 268) found that out of 
nineteen shelters, ten contained only red paints, eleven had other monochrome 
and bichrome paintings, and one had a polychrome painting. 

In the Soutpansberg of the northern Transvaal, Rudner & Rudner 
(1970: 268) found red paintings only at two sites, and other monochromes and 
bichromes at two. White predominated among 'crude late' paintings. In the 
Limpopo Valley, Schoonraad (1960) recorded that most of the paintings were of 
large animals in monochromes with a number of bichromes and one trichrome 
painting. The colours were reds, white, grey, orange, black, and, in several 
instances, green (see above). There are some shaded paintings in the northern 
and eastern Transvaal. 

Masson (1971) recorded twenty-nine sites in Swaziland: monochrome 
silhouettes, usually in dark red, predominated, though lighter reds, blacks, and 
yellow-browns were not uncommon; one bichrome only was found and there 
were no polychromes. 

The paintings of the Great Karoo are mainly designs, or, more rarely, crude 
animal pictures (Rudner & Rudner 1969; 1970: 234, pi. 52) in red, white, black, 
or yellow. A survey of twelve sites (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 268) showed eleven 
with red paintings, ten with white, five with black, and four with yellow. 

At Buffelshoek, in the Oudtshoorn area, the author saw a deep shelter with 
pockets of fine, red-brown powder in the rock; handprints of an unknown age 
were made on the rock, obviously with the powder only, which has tenacious 
qualities. There are also a few pictures in the same colour. 

Among the paintings of the south-western Cape, monochrones in red 
predominate, and white occurs frequently, often superimposed on red, for 
decorative features such as beadwork. Some white has lasted well in protected 
shelters, but much of it must have been fugitive judging by the traces left in 
paintings or the obvious absence of some features. In the Cedarberg area, 
yellow occurs frequently. A survey of forty-two shelters showed that only red 
paintings occurred in thirty-five, other monochromes and bichromes in eleven, 
and polychromes in one of the shelters (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 268). 

In the main rock painting areas of South West Africa, the Brandberg and 


Erongo Mountains, Rudner & Rudner (1970, pis 2-4, 8) found that red 
monochromes predominate. There are also bichromes and fewer polychromes, 
usually with black and/or white, especially for details, and occasionally yellows. 
Some of the white and black paints lasted as well as the reds, others were 
fugitive. In some paintings in the Brandberg, the black paints were the only ones 
that lasted, with mere traces of the other paints, while in others the black had 
obviously disappeared while the red had remained. Out of thirty-four sites 
surveyed in the Brandberg, only red paintings occurred at twenty-seven, while 
other monochromes and bichromes occurred at six, with polychromes at one site 
only. In the Erongo there were red paintings at a total of seventeen sites with 
one other colour only (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 268). 

Painting sites are few in Angola: Rudner & Rudner located three, although 
they did not go far north of Luanda, and there was no information to be had 
about others. One site contained two painted shelters. Paintings in all four 
shelters differ markedly in choice of colour as well as in style of paintings, an 
indication that there was not a general rock painting tradition and that perhaps 
different peoples had made the paintings. In one of the shelters at Tchitundu 
Hulo, in the southern desert, there are crude white and red designs, apparently 
painted with the fingers, while in another shelter in the same area there are 
complex, large designs and crude animal pictures in white, red, maroon, pink, 
brown, and black. The only paintings in any way resembling these designs that 
the author has seen, are in northern South West Africa at Ombaranga. At 
Moma, in the Huambo district, a large shelter contains designs and crude, large 
insect-like and human figures, mainly in white, but also in black, red, and 
orange. The third site, Lumbi-ia-Suco, north of Quibala, is a large shelter with 
red designs and crude black or red human figures (see also J. Rudner 1976). 

In Botswana, the most important painting area is the Tsodilo Hills in the 
north-west. Out of twenty-two painting sites located by the author in 2 days, all 
but two contained paintings in red only. They covered various styles, including 
shading, and periods. At one site, late finger-drawn designs and a handprint in 
white were superimposed on earlier red paintings, and there were also bichrome 
maroon and white rhino figures. At another site were crude, late finger-painted 
designs and figures in white (I. Rudner 1965). 

Red monochromes predominate in the rock paintings of Mashonaland and 
Matabeleland, but there are also bichromes and polychromes that include white 
and yellow, sometimes black; pink has also been recorded (see Summers ed. 
1959). There are some shaded paintings. In twenty-two out of twenty-seven 
shelters in Mashonaland the paintings were in red only, five shelters had other 
monochromes and bichromes, and two had polychromes. In all ten shelters 
surveyed in Matabeleland, there were paintings in red only, with three other 
monochromes or bichromes (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 268). 

It must be stressed again that present conditions could well be misleading 
and there might originally have been more bichromes than are now apparent 
from the present state of preservation. However, there is no doubt that red was 



the colour most preferred by the artists, not only because of the availability and 
tenacious qualities of the ferric oxides, but perhaps also because of the red 
colour and its possible symbolism: it has been noted herein that some Khoisan 
women used the pigment as a sign of menstruation and that Hahn (1881) 
suggested that the red ochre with which Nama women painted sacred stones was 
a substitute for blood, while Laidler (1928) said that red paints were used as 
remedies because blood was red. Other ritual uses of red pigments, such as the 
red burials, might have had their origin as substitutes for blood. 


Although it is impossible to judge from visual evidence the type of media 
used in the paints, it is clear that some paints were applied thickly as a paste, 
while others must have been very fluid to have achieved the very fine lines and 
details in some of the paintings. There is evidence, too, that crayons, e.g. of red 
ochre or charcoal, were used and that some pictures, probably few, might have 
been made with a powdered pigment only. 

At many well-sheltered sites the paint, especially the red, is so thick that 
some of it can be rubbed or scratched off — at Driehoek, near Clanwilliam, 
people rubbed off paint from large red paintings to draw their initials on the 
rock next to the paintings (Fig. 24) (see also Rudner & Rudner 1970: 114, 119, 



■ .- 

Fig. 24. The paint on these paintings at Driehoek, Clanwilliam district, south-western Cape, 
was so thick that children used some of it to write their initials on the rock. 


pi. 36). In the eastern Cape, especially, paintings in shelters have been smeared 
into a mess up to more than a metre high, possibly by the bodies of livestock, 
showing that at one time there must have been an excess of paint. A low smudge 
along the walls may also indicate that people with painted bodies or clothing had 
sat there, not necessarily Khoisan people, as it has been shown that black 
peoples also used pigments on themselves and their clothing. 

Finger-painted pictures abound, particularly in the south-western Cape and 
the Karoo (Rudner & Rudner 1970). 

There is, therefore, abundant evidence that some paints must have been 
thick and pasty and would have had to be applied with fairly robust sticks, 
spatulae of some kind, or the fingers. 

At other sites the painted lines are sometimes so thin and delicate that only 
a brush, feather, or thin stick and very fluid paint could have been used (see Figs 
25-26). And yet these paintings survived. 

The author was shown a colour slide of paintings in the Vumba Mountain, 
Manica Province, Mozambique (M. da Luz Pilata Dias 1975 pers. comm.) that 
showed that the top few figures were very clear and belonged to a different 
period both in style and preservation from the lower figures (of animals and 
humans) that were badly smeared vertically, caused by water that had made 
the paints run. This was clear evidence that some paints were water soluble 
and the author has seen this, but to a lesser extent, elsewhere in southern 

At one time the paintings covering a vast cave wall in Lesotho were 
regularly wetted with water from a large garden spray to bring out the colours of 
the paintings for the benefit of visitors; the fact that so many of the paintings 
have withstood this treatment shows that at least some of the paints were not 
water soluble. The sinter that has formed over the paintings and now partly 
obscures them, also partly protects them against this wetting. 

Handprints, another way of applying paint to the rock, are common in the 
south-western Cape (Rudner & Rudner 1970, pi. 34, index), but are not quite as 
common elsewhere in southern Africa (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 268). In the 
Elandspunt cave on the Cape west coast, the rock walls are covered with stylized 
handprints for which the palm of the hand was painted in a horseshoe pattern 
before being pressed against the rock (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 125, fig. 52). 
More commonly, the entire hand was covered with paint before making the 
print. Some handprints occur in the Karoo, too, where finger-paintings are very 
common (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 125, pi. 44). Paintings such as these usually 
belong to a late period, as superpositions show (e.g. Rudner & Rudner 1970: 49, 
125, fig. 37, pi. 44). 

Further information, mainly speculation, on possible techniques has already 
been noted in the section on theories and experiments. 

This study has shown that few of the suggested media for paints for rock 
paintings are known to have been used by the Khoisan peoples and that many of 
the suggestions were not based on any evidence whatsoever. 


The historical Hottentots used blood very occasionally as a body paint, 
usually ritually, and such occasional use has been recorded by the present-day 
Nama, and the Bushmen of apparently one group only. There are some 
historical indications and also apparently chemical indications that blood might 
have been a binder in the paints for rock paintings, although it has been 
questioned here whether blood was as generally used as is claimed (see discus- 
sion pp. 31-34). 

The historical Hottentots used animal fats as a binder for their traditional 
paints, and they used water with hyraxeum for a facial paint. The Nama today 
almost always use animal fats or a substitute such as Vaseline, and very 
occasionally water. An emulsion of spittle and raw fat forms the basis of their 
traditional cosmetic paints; sometimes pigments are applied in powder form 
only; these include the aromatic plant pigments (buchu) as well as earth 

The Hottentots rendered fat and whale blubber in their pots and melted fat 
for drinking and other purposes, so that they would have known of the 
advantages of fat as a fluid medium. This, together with their use of emulsions, 
makes it highly likely that fat, perhaps with a little water, could have formed the 
medium for rock paints, had they used them. 

The Bushmen traditionally use animal and vegetable fats as media for body 
paints, but frequently a pigment was, and still is, applied without a binder. They 
usually did not have animal fat to spare, hence their use of vegetable fats to 
augment their diet as well as for other purposes. Perhaps the prehistoric 
hunter-gatherers were more fortunate in obtaining large game animals with fat, 
but the discovery of storage pits for fat-containing seeds in an archaeological 
deposit (at Boomplaas cave) indicates that animal fats might even then have 
been a fairly scarce commodity and that substitutes had to be used. The 
Bushman's traditional preference for eland fat in areas where this animal occurs, 
or occurred, possibly lies in the fact that an eland is a large animal that carries 
more fat than smaller game; according to Lichtenstein (1811 2: 40), it has a lot 
of fat round its heart, which melts easily, but this must have been exceptional as 
all antelope carry relatively little fat under normal conditions (R. Rau, South 
African Museum, 1980 pers. comm.). In areas such as South West Africa and 
the Karoo regions, from where the informants of Bleek & Lloyd (1911) came, 
the gemsbok, more often than the eland, plays a prominent role in folklore, and 
fieldwork by Rudner & Rudner has shown that in these drier regions the 
gemsbok is usually the biggest antelope in the paintings and engravings, while 
the eland is seldom depicted, or not at all. Probably the 'eland cult' in folklore 
and in paintings in areas such as the Drakensberg — where the eland mask or 
head is portrayed on human figures — was partly related to the large amount of 
food that the animal provided, and, similarly, the gemsbok was a favourite 
animal in some dry regions, where the gemsbok mask was in vogue. 

There is limited hearsay evidence regarding the use of plant sap for making 
rock paints in Lesotho, but ethnographical evidence for such use of plant sap 


and other plant substances was not found; however, their presence could 
perhaps be established by means of chemical tests. 

Many thousands of rock paintings must have weathered away in time, 
particularly those in the unsheltered positions. Those that have survived would 
have had to be well protected from the elements or be fairly waterproof. It is 
unlikely that all the rock artists in such a vast area as southern Africa would 
have used identical media and there must have been regional differences. But, 
from the evidence, fat was used by all the Khoisan groups as a medium for body 
paints, and its use would probably have extended to the paints for rock 
paintings — there is also some evidence to this effect. Not only is fat reasonably 
waterproof, but when warmed by the sun it makes an admirable binder for paint 
for use on stone, particularly when a small amount of water is added to make an 
emulsion such as that used by the Nama, and as the author has found ex- 

It is suggested that future investigators look for traces of fat in the rock 


There is much evidence in the rock paintings that body or cosmetic paints 
were used by the indigenous peoples, and this has been noted in various books 
on rock art, particularly in the past decade or two when more emphasis has been 
laid on detail than was the case in the past. A few instances only are mentioned 
here by way of illustration. 

Patterns painted on bodies, particularly on faces, occur mainly in the 
Drakensberg areas (e.g. Figs 23, 26), the Orange Free State, south-eastern Cape 
(e.g. Fig. 21), south-western Cape (e.g. Fig. 28) and Mashonaland (Rudner & 
Rudner 1970: 268, schedule). As white was often used for decorative features 
but is frequently an unstable paint, there are indications that such features could 
have been more common in the paintings than is now the case. 

In Ndedema Gorge, Pager (1971: 334) found ornamental body paint on 37 
recognizable human figures out of over 4 500, 10 of which had been painted 
white. This is not to be confused with decorative features such as arm and leg 
rings and beadwork. His analysis showed that the patterns consisted of stripes, 
stipples, dots and crosses, alone or in combination, and sometimes lines had 
been painted on faces depicted in a light colour (Pager 1971: 333, figs 306-308 et 
seq.). Among the paintings in the Drakensberg areas are human figures, 
including hunters, semi-human figures with features such as animal heads (Fig. 
25) and hooves, and other strange creatures that have faces and bodies deco- 
rated with dots and lines (Fig. 26); some figures have body patterns and others, 
both male and female, have white faces. Scarification among Bushmen has been 
mentioned when noting such paintings (Vinnicombe 1976: 256-257), implying 
that some of the body decoration in the paintings may depict scarification — this 
is possible. There are some few early references in the literature to 'grooves and 
cuts' in the skins of Hottentots at the Cape (see Raven-Hart 1971, index), but it 





Fig. 26. A strange figure painted with dots and lines, Willcox 
shelter, Giant's Castle Nature Reserve, Natal. 

may be that these marks were the patterns made with finger-nails in body paint, 
and these, too, could have been depicted in the paintings. There is some 
evidence of scarification among the Hottentots, but much less than among the 
Bushmen. Body decoration by the Bushmen has been emphasized in connection 
with rock paintings (Vinnicombe 1976: 253), but it has been noted in this study 
that the Hottentots were as prone to painting themselves with patterns as were 
the Bushmen, probably more so, judging by the amount of references to this in 
the literature, although this may be misleading. In discussing painted faces in 
rock art (Vinnicombe 1976), reference was also made to the faces of 1x66 
initiates being painted to resemble the 'face' of a gemsbok (see Heinz 1966, who 


mentioned the gemsbok 'brow shield'), but it has been shown in a previous 
section here on the historical Hottentots (Figs 5, 7) and by the author's 
fieldwork among the Nama (Fig. 1B-D) that the custom of paintings masks or 
masklike-patterns on faces was much more prevalent among these people than 
among the Bushmen. Incidentally, the 'gemsbok brow face' noted and figured by 
Heinz bears no resemblance to the 'gemsbok face' of the Nama (Fig. IB). 

As noted in the section on Bushmen, Anderson (1888) mentioned a 
Bushman girl with white stripes painted all over her body, and in Stow (1905) 
this information is so similar that it might have been taken from Anderson by 
Stow's editor (G. M. Theal), while further information about elaborate body 
paintings sounds as if it had been obtained from a study of the rock paintings 
themselves. Dornan merely mentioned that he had heard of striped body 
painting and quoted Anderson. So there is scant reliable information regarding 
elaborate body painting — as depicted in the rock art — by Bushmen, but this does 
not mean that it did not exist, perhaps in earlier times; but, here again, there is 
far more evidence that the Hottentots made patterns on their bodies and faces. 

J. Walton (1980, Cape Town, pers. comm.) has suggested that at least some 
of the figures with this body paint in the rock paintings of the Drakensberg and 
adjacent areas may depict black people: on several occasions he had seen 
Basotho people with their bodies decorated for rituals in the identical way to 
these figures in the paintings (see Fig. 23); some Basotho groups also make use 
of animal heads for masks in certain rituals, and it may be these that are 
depicted in some of the animal-headed figures in the Drakensberg. Figure 27 
shows details of two such heads, but this does not imply that they are of 

This elaborate body paint does not occur in the paintings in the western 
parts of South Africa. 

Although all this does not prove that the figures with body paints do not 
depict Bushmen, there is a strong possibility that the artists, who might have 
been Bushmen, were depicting other people, as, indeed, they sometimes did. 
One cannot, therefore, establish the identity of the rock artists by selective 
evidence, i.e. referring to the practice of body painting by Bushmen and 
ignoring this apparently more common practice among other groups. 

Vinnicombe (1976: 253) did not know of Bushmen painting faces white, but 
said it is common among Pondo, Xhosa, and Bhaca initiates as well as among 
novice witchdoctors (see also the section on cosmetic customs among black 
people, herein pp. 11-15). Pager (1971) suggested that the lighter faces inside 
the 'hooks' depicting hair or a head covering of sorts may be a painted face or a 
mask, but this is hardly likely, as even the faces of children are sometimes 
painted in this way. This style occurs in the Drakensberg areas and is very 
common in the south-western Cape and South West Africa — the lighter colour 
may be yellow, pink or white, and often it has disappeared, leaving only the 
characteristic 'hook'. As pointed out elsewhere (I. Rudner 1973), the light faces 
might have been only to differentiate between face and hair — the rock artists 



Fig. 27. Details from the painted scene in Battle Cave showing 

animal heads or masks (lower picture: from a tracing in Rudner 

& Rudner 1970). 



had scant regard for the real colours of the subjects that they portrayed, and this 
was found among Bushmen who were given drawing materials where their 
choice of colours was not as limited as in the veld (I. Rudner 1970). 

In the south-western Cape and South West Africa especially, the lighter 
paint of the face has seldom been preserved, and patterned faces are seen only 
occasionally (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 268). One of the few examples is in the 
Kriedouwkranz cave in the south-western Cape (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 122, 
pi. 39) (Fig. 28 herein). Because of the dress and other accoutrement shown in 
these paintings of the 'Formal School', Rudner & Rudner (1970) have suggested 
that such paintings, which do not make up all the paintings of these areas, seem 
to depict Hottentots and might have been the work of early Hottentots or their 
ancestors. The fact that the Hottentots had a tradition of painting themselves, 
which is also found in these rock paintings, could support this suggestion. 

Fig. 28. A patterned face from a rock painting at Kriedouw- 
kranz, near Clanwilliam, south-western Cape (from a tracing in 
Rudner & Rudner 1970). 



Some opinions on weathering and 'fading' of paintings have already been 
noted in the section on theories and experiments. 

It is not correct to refer to the 'fading' of colours produced by means of 
mineral pigments such as iron oxides, as these do not fade. Plant pigments fade, 
but we do not know whether they were used and how long they would have 
lasted. The red colour of blood changes to black and fades away completely, as 
indicated previously herein. 

Various writers noted that paintings had faded or disappeared in their 
lifetimes, Others noted that they had changed little in a century, such as the 
Ezeljacht paintings mentioned before. Rudner & Rudner (1970: 114) mentioned 
paintings photographed at Driehoek, near Clanwilliam, in 1885 that showed no 
apparent change in 80 years. Tongue noted that the paintings that she copied 
(before 1909) in the eastern Cape (also copied by Stow before 1882) were 
becoming 'fast obliterated', but the paintings that they saw are still there 
(Rudner & Rudner 1970: 141). 

Much may depend on the type of paints used — Bleek (in Stow & Bleek 
1930: xiv) remarked that after 60 years 'in many pictures in open shelters where 
Stow found and copied clear white, there is only a faint trace of colour left'; that 
some colours seem to be more fugitive than others has already been noted 

The situation of the paintings is the most important factor regarding their 
preservation. Scouring of a rock-face by sandstorms, rain, or running water will 
cause mechanical wear that can give the impression of fading, and will lead to 
the eventual destruction of the pictures. 

One of the main causes of deterioration of paintings is the weathering of the 
rock itself. Stow (1905: 25-26) recorded the disintegration of both rock and 
paintings made 'some 40 years previously' (prior to 1882). In the Drakensberg 
areas the granular disintegration of the friable Cave Sandstone is a major 
problem in the conservation of the rock paintings. This, and its instability that 
causes shelter roofs to collapse, must have destroyed untold numbers of paint- 
ings (see Van Riet Lowe 1949). In fine-grained granite areas such as the 
Brandberg, and the Matopo Hills in Matabeleland, and the fine-grained Table 
Mountain Sandstone of the south-western Cape, these processes of disintegra- 
tion are usually very slow, but in coarser granites, where the surfaces flake and 
blister, the process can be quite rapid (see Schofield 1932a; Mabbutt 1952; 
Cooke 1971ft). 

Reports that there are now fewer paintings to be seen at Ndedema Gorge 
than when they were recorded by Pager (1971) may be that an untrained eye 
cannot detect the paintings as easily as a trained and experienced one — the 
writer has found this to occur often. 

Ways and means of retarding the disintegration of rock surfaces on which 
paintings occur is a long-term project of the National Building Research Insti- 


tute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in its work on the 
preservation of rock paintings. 

Vandalism has been responsible for extensive damage to, and the complete 
destruction of, numerous paintings (see Rudner & Rudner 1970: 261 ff.). 


What, then, has been learnt about the pigments and paints of the Khoisan 
people and their relationship to the rock paintings? The following is a summary 
of the main relevant conclusions. 

In an examination of the recorded data on the substances that were said to 
have been used by the Khoisan rock artists, it was found that there is virtually no 
primary information, that little of the recorded information is reliable, that there 
has been much plagiarism and conjecture, and that a chain of uncritical 
acceptance of published statements by subsequent writers has lent credibility to 
dubious information. From the more reliable of this information, it appears that 
the chief media for the paints used by the rock artists would have been animal 
fats, sometimes heated and, perhaps, with a little water added as well. Other 
media might have been water, blood and plant sap (secondary evidence in 
Lesotho), gum, and honey, but the evidence for the use of these is thin. Apart 
from fat, it is not possible to judge how widespread the use of these media might 
have been. Many authors did not advance any evidence for suggesting various 
other substances as binders for paint. As far as the pigments are concerned, it 
appears that there is virtually no reliable first-hand information either. However, 
it seems from these reports that mainly earth pigments, notably red ochre, must 
have been used, and there is some indication of the use of plant pigments. 
Experiments by several people with various pigments and media produced 
conflicting reports. Some mineral pigments were identified in a few tests. The 
presence of blood as a pigment and blood or blood serum as a binder was 
claimed to have been ascertained chemically, almost without exception in 
samples of rock paints taken in various parts of South and South West Africa; 
this universal use is questioned here as well as some of the deductions made 
about the age and ageing of the paintings. The claim that blood was a pigment 
that faded over centuries is disputed and it has been ascertained experimentally 
that blood painted on stone fades in a few years under conditions protected from 
direct sunlight and rain. It is not known to what extent the addition of other 
substances might have influenced the fading. 

Bushmen were rock artists and there is one report of Nama women having 
painted ritual marks on rocks. There is evidence in the paintings of the 
south-western Cape and South West Africa that Hottentots or their ancestors 
might have been responsible for some of the paintings in these areas. 

All the Hottentot groups made extensive use of pigments and paints, mainly 
for personal adornment, which included ritual uses and elaborate body and 
facial patterns and masks. There is some limited evidence that the Hottentots 
practised cicatrization for which substances such as fat, also used for paints, 


were utilized. Objects such as garments were also coloured or painted. The chief 
pigments were various forms of haematite, mainly red ochre; in the northern 
and north-western Cape areas, specularite or related ores were also used. Other 
traditional pigments were charcoal and soot (most frequently recorded at the 
Cape in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), pounded quartz, plant pig- 
ments (which also served as aromatic powders on their own), plant dyes, 
hyraxeum, and some unidentified mineral substances. The only media found to 
have been used were animal fats and, sometimes, water. Rendered and melted 
fat was used in various ways, also with pigments. 

Fieldwork among the present-day Nama people in South West Africa 
showed that they still make traditional use of these pigments and paints, mainly 
for cosmetic purposes, which include patterns and masks on faces, and some- 
times for ritual or semi-ritual purposes. Cicatrization is not practised. Skin 
clothing and other objects are still coloured with pigments and paints. Red ochre 
is still the most important pigment, but specularite is apparently unknown. Plant 
pigments, which also serve as aromatic powders on their own, are used exten- 
sively. Other pigments are white quartz and hyraxeum (both traditional), and 
bat droppings (for which a previous record was not found). Charcoal and soot 
are almost never used. The only media for the paints are animal fats or Vaseline 
and, sometimes, water. Fats are rendered for use, but cosmetic pigments are 
often mixed with raw, chewed fat that includes the spittle to form an emulsion. 
Blood is used ritually on rare occasions as a slight body paint. 

It seems that all Bushman groups must have used pigments and paints in the 
past and they still do so today. Red ochre was the most widely used pigment, 
chiefly for cosmetic purposes. Specularite, or related ores, were known and used 
in the northern and north-western Cape. Other pigments recorded were char- 
coal, soot, and ash, mainly used in cicatrization scars, a practice that is still 
widespread; plant pigments, also used as aromatic powders without binders; 
and, infrequently, an unidentified white pigment. Two contemporary references 
were to the use of blood as a body paint. Far fewer facial and body patterns 
were recorded than for the historical Hottentots and the Nama. The only 
medium for paints found to have been used was fat, including both plant and 
animal fat, with some hearsay information regarding plant sap or blood as 
binders for rock paints in Lesotho. 

Many of the media for rock paints suggested in the literature were found 
not to have been used by the Khoisan people for their paints. 

This study has noted some strange customs, some perhaps exaggerated, 
among the Khoisan peoples, but they are no more strange than many that 
existed, and still exist, among other societies in other parts of the world. It has 
been established that there are threads of traditions and customs associated with 
pigments and paints running from the sixteenth century Hottentots at the Cape 
coast, through all related groups to the Nama of today in South West Africa. 
The picture for the Bushmen is more fragmentary and blurred, due mainly to 
lack of sufficient historical evidence, but it would seem that all groups apparent- 


ly made use of pigments and paints but usually to a lesser extent than the 
Hottentots, and not with the same uniformity of use. Marked similarities in 
these practices are shown to have occurred among some of the Kora and some 
Nama groups, while there are also similarities in detail in some practices 
between the Nama and the Hottentot-speaking Hai// 9 om. 

There is archaeological evidence from Late Stone Age and Middle Stone 
Age deposits that the Khoisan peoples and their ancestors used earth pigments, 
mainly haematite; the so-called 'red burials' indicate cosmetic use for living 
people as well as ritual use in burials. Some of the so-called painted burial stones 
were, indeed, associated with burials and show ritual involvement with the rock 
art, but some were not so associated. Known caches of red ochre and specularite 
and other ores, apparently for use as pigments, correspond to the historical 
distribution of Khoisan peoples in South and South West Africa, except that 
caches are not known to have been found in the south-western and southern 
Cape, but there red burials also occur. The containers for the caches were 
Hottentot-type pots (which might also have been used by the Bushmen in 
contact with the Hottentots) and ostrich egg-shells; these caches suggest trade 
for some of the pigments with black Tswana people who are known to have 
mined them. Pigment mining in southern Africa is known to date back to the 
Middle Stone Age. One archaeological deposit has revealed that some of the 
occupants of a painted cave in the southern Cape used oil-containing fruits; this 
is evidence that they might have been hunter-gatherers short of animal fats, 
unlike the stock-owning Hottentots. 

Visual examination of the rock paintings indicates that the pigments must 
have included ferric oxides, as some tests have also shown, and there is 
archaeological, historical and contemporary confirmation for their use in paints, 
also for other purposes, by Khoisan peoples. The main colours in the rock art 
are various hues and shades of red, yellow, orange, white and black, and 
occasionally green and blue have been recorded. One can assume that the 
colours that have lasted must have been mineral pigments as plant pigments 
fade — other mineral pigments, apart from ferric oxides, have, indeed, been 
identified in a few tests. Some of the black and white paints are more fugitive 
than others. Charcoal is a traditional Khoisan pigment and tests have revealed 
its presence in some paintings, but white was apparently seldom used by 
Khoisan people other than in rock paintings. 

Colour preferences, perhaps connected with the availability of pigments, 
occur in regions, but this can be assessed on present conditions only as it is not 
always obvious where paints have faded or worn away. 

Visual examination of the paintings also gives some information on tech- 
niques and media. Some paints were applied as a paste, definitely with the 
fingers, but perhaps also with an instrument of sorts. Others were fluid enough 
to apply in fine lines and details with some kind of brush or thin stick. Some 
paints have proved to be waterproof, while there are paintings where the paints 
have run, and yet others that have disappeared completely: much will have 


depended on the media that the artists used, as well as on the textures and kinds 
of pigments. Obviously shelter from the elements was an important factor in 
preserving the paints, some of which would not otherwise have stood the test of 

Body painting in rock art cannot be related to the Bushman people only, 
whether or not they were the only artists, for, according to the available 
information, there was a high incidence of body painting — and sometimes more 
elaborate — among the Hottentot peoples, which is still practised among the 
Nama, while some black initiates in Lesotho are still painted in ways similar to 
some of the figures in the Drakensberg paintings. 

The deterioration of rock art is a world-wide problem and is being recog- 
nized and dealt with in various countries. The main objects have been to find 
ways and means of protecting the rock paintings by determining how weathering 
of the rock surfaces on which they occur can be retarded or prevented, to 
determine the ingredients that went into making the paintings, and how the 
paintings themselves can be protected. Methods such as scanning electron 
microscopy and X-ray analysis have been used to identify pigments (see Philip- 
pakis et al. 1979) and to determine bonding of paints with rock surfaces, 
chemical weathering processes, and the formation of crusts on paintings, and 
can, perhaps, ascertain whether some rock surfaces were specially prepared by 
the artists. The work of the National Building Research Institute to determine 
ways of preserving South African rock paintings has been mentioned in the 

Radiocarbon dating is possible for painted stones found in datable deposits, 
but a method of determining the age of the paintings on the rocks should be 
further investigated — apparently experiments are in progress overseas. 

Fieldworkers can assist in trying to identify the pigments that were used for 
rock paintings by a series of regional surveys to determine the colours used by 
the rock artists and the frequency with which they occur, as has already been 
done in limited areas; a standard colour chart should be used by all. This data 
should be matched against the known range of colours produced by various 
natural pigments, and would add in other ways to our knowledge of rock art. 

There is a great deal of co-ordinated work to be done if we are not to lose 
an irreplaceable heritage. 



I am especially grateful to Prof. Murray Schoonraad and his wife, Elzabe, 
for their interest and encouragement with this project, and to the University of 
Natal and Dr Tim Maggs of Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg. Prof. Schoonraad 
and Dr Maggs were supervisors for the M.A. thesis that has here been revised. 

The friendly co-operation of various officials of the then Department of 
Coloured Relations and Rehoboth Affairs in Cape Town and Windhoek enabled 
me to obtain valuable information in the Nama areas. I am also indebted to the 
Nama people and officials (mentioned in the text) who were interviewed. 

Many others provided information collected over a period of years — their 
assistance is gratefully acknowledged; the addresses given below were those 
current at the time. 

Botanical data were supplied by Mrs Pauline Fairrall and Dr J. P. Rourke 
(National Botanic Gardens of South Africa, Kirstenbosch), Dr A. Jacot- 
Guillarmod (Rhodes University, Grahamstown), Dr O. Leistner who also 
supplied plant specimens, and Dr M. J. Wells (Botanical Research Institute, 
Pretoria), and Dr S. Talukdar (University, Roma, Lesotho) who also supplied 
plant specimens that were kindly delivered by air by Miss S. Willet (University, 

For information and discussions on blood I thank Dr W. H. E. Bunge 
(State Pathology Laboratory, Cape Town), Dr A. J. Louw and Mr J. P. Traut 
(Maitland Abattoir, Cape Town) who also arranged for blood samples, Prof. 
T. G. Schwar (Faculty of Medicine, University of Stellenbosch), Mr and Mrs 
M. Snyman (Blaauwkrantz, Carnarvon) who arranged for blood samples, and 
Dr R. H. Stead (Western Province Blood Transfusion Service, Cape Town) who 
also supplied valuable notes. 

Data were supplied by Prof. P. V. Tobias (Medical School, University of 
the Witwatersrand), who also permitted the use of information prior to its 
publication; and Plascon Paint and Chemical Industries (Johannesburg). In- 
formation received from many others is also acknowledged in the text. 

Permission to use information from old correspondence files of the South 
African Museum and Sir Andrew Smith's notes on Hottentots was granted by 
the Director, Dr T. H. Barry. The librarians of the South African Museum 
frequently helped in the search for literature. 

The help of the Rustica Press (Wynberg, Cape) is gratefully acknowledged. 

Mrs E. Paap (Fehr Collection, Cape Town) provided the negative for 
Figure 6. I am very much indebted to Mr Anthony Bannister (Honeydew, 
Transvaal) for allowing me to have black-and-white prints made from some of 
his colour slides (Figs 16-17, 20), and to Mr Aubrey Byron (South African 
Museum) for processing the photographs for this publication. 

My greatest debt of gratitude is owed to Jalmar, Bjorn and Sigurd Rudner 
for their encouragement and for sharing numerous expeditions during which 
some of the information for this project was also gathered. We received 
hospitality and help from many farmers and others during fieldwork and are 
grateful to them all. 



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Table 1. 
Table 2. 

Table 3. 
Table 4. 
Table 5. 
Table 6. 
Table 7. 
Table 8. 
Table 9. 
Table 10. 
Table 11. 
Table 12. 
Table 13. 
Table 14. 
Table 15. 
Table 16. 
Table 17. 
Table 18. 
Table 19. 
Table 20. 
Table 21. 
Table 22. 
Table 23. 
Table 24. 
Table 25. 
Table 26. 
Table 27. 
Table 28. 
Table 29. 
Table 30. 
Table 31. 
Table 32. 
Table 33. 
Table 34. 
Table 35. 
Table 36. 
Table 37. 
Table 38. 
Table 39. 
Table 40. 
Table 41. 
Table 42. 
Table 43. 
Table 44. 
Table 45. 



Who were the artists? 5 

Possible media used in rock paintings 26 

Possible pigments used in rock paintings 40 

Possible techniques and tools used in rock paintings 47 

Fat used by the Hottentots 74 

Dung used by the Hottentots 84 

Urine used by the Hottentots 86 

Blood used by the Hottentots - 89 

Special use of water by the Hottentots 91 

Milk used by the Hottentots 92 

Eggs used by the Hottentots 93 

Plant sap used by the Hottentots 93 

Gum used by the Hottentots 94 

Honey used by the Hottentots 94 

Ferric oxides used by the Hottentots 96 

Soot, charcoal, ash used by the Hottentots 102 

Plant pigments used by the Hottentots 104 

Miscellaneous pigments used by the Hottentots 106 

Buchu used by the Hottentots 110 

Patterns made with cosmetic pigments and paints by the Hottentots 113 

Fat used by the present-day Nama 156 

Dung used by the present-day Nama 158 

Blood used by the present-day Nama 158 

Special use of water by the present-day Nama 160 

Ferric oxides used by the present-day Nama. Red ochre 162 

Soot, charcoal used by the present-day Nama 166 

Plant pigments used by the present-day Nama 167 

Miscellaneous pigments used by the present-day Nama 169 

Buchu used by the present-day Nama 170 

Patterns made with cosmetic pigments and paints by the present-day Nama 172 

Fat used by the Bushmen 180 

Urine used by the Bushmen 186 

Blood used by the Bushmen 187 

Stomach liquid used by the Bushmen 188 

Special use of water by the Bushmen 189 

Eggs used by the Bushmen 191 

Plant sap used by the Bushmen 192 

Gum used by the Bushmen 192 

Honey used by the Bushmen 193 

Ferric oxides used by the Bushmen 196 

Soot, charcoal, ash used by the Bushmen 198 

Plant pigments used by the Bushmen 200 

Miscellaneous pigments used by the Bushmen 203 

Buchu used by the Bushmen 205 

Patterns made with cosmetic pigments and paints by the Bushmen 206 

6533 036 

6. SYSTEMATIC papers must conform to the International code of zoological nomenclature 
(particularly Articles 22 and 51). 

Names of new taxa, combinations, synonyms, etc., when used for the first time, must be 
followed by the appropriate Latin (not English) abbreviation, e.g. gen. nov., sp. nov., comb, 
nov., syn. nov., etc. 

An author's name when cited must follow the name of the taxon without intervening 
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species or subspecies is transferred from its original genus. The name of a subsequent user of 
a scientific name must be separated from the scientific name by a colon. 

Synonymy arrangement should be according to chronology of names, i.e. all published 
scientific names by which the species previously has been designated are listed in chronological 
order, with all references to that name following in chronological order, e.g.: 

Family Nuculanidae 

Nuculana (Lembulus) bicuspidata (Gould, 1845) 

Figs 14-1 5 A 
Nucula {Leda) bicuspidata Gould, 1845: 37. 
Leda plicifera A. Adams, 1856: 50. 

Laeda bicuspidata Hanley, 1859: 118, pi. 228 (fig. 73). Sowerby, 1871 : pi. 2 (fig. 8a-b). 
Nucula largiilierti Philippi, 1861 : 87. 
Leda bicuspidata: Nickles, 1950: 163, fig. 301; 1955: 110. Barnard, 1964: 234, figs 8-9. 

Note punctuation in the above example: 

comma separates author's name and year 

semicolon separates more than one reference by the same author 

full stop separates references by different authors 

figures of plates are enclosed in parentheses to distinguish them from text-figures 

dash, not comma, separates consecutive numbers 

Synonymy arrangement according to chronology of bibliographic references, whereby 
the year is placed in front of each entry, and the synonym repeated in full for each entry, is 
not acceptable. 

In describing new species, one specimen must be designated as the holotype; other speci- 
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not regarded as paratypes should be listed separately. The complete data (registration number, 
depository, description of specimen, locality, collector, date) of the holotype and paratypes 
must be recorded, e.g. : 


SAM-A 13535 in the South African Museum, Cape Town. Adult female from mid-tide region, King's Beach 
Port Elizabeth (33°51'S 25°39'E), collected by A. Smith, 15 January 1973. 

Note standard form of writing South African Museum registration numbers and date. 


Capital initial letters 

(a) The Figures, Maps and Tables of the paper when referred to in the text 

e.g. '. . . the Figure depicting C. namacolus . . .'; '. . . in C. namacolus (Fig. 10) . . .' 

(b) The prefixes of prefixed surnames in all languages, when used in the text, if not preceded 
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Punctuation should be loose, omitting all not strictly necessary 
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'Revision of the Crustacea. Part VIII. The Amphipoda.' 
Specific name must not stand alone, but be preceded by the generic name or its abbreviation 

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Name of new genus or species is not to be included in the title: it should be included in the 

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Biological Abstracts. 

JUL 2 



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